Aug. 17—NEW HAVEN — In an at-times tumultuous meeting, the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority approved a new 43-year lease and management agreement with a subsidiary of its longtime contract operator, Goldman Sachs-owned Avports LLC, on Wednesday, opening the door for a $100 million airport expansion.
The meeting took place with East Haven Mayor Joe Carfora speaking forcefully against the lease and expansion and all four East Haven-appointed members voting no. A number of airport neighbors and other residents showed up at the airport despite the fact that the meeting was held virtually via Zoom and also spoke against expansion after being admitted into the Zoom meeting.
The vote came after the East Haven appointees failed in an attempt to table the lease — and most other actions at the meeting — on the basis that airport officials didn't give them enough time to review 660 pages of material sent to them Sunday.
"When the Authority and Avports first announced this historic partnership last year, we had one goal: give the people of southern Connecticut the airport they want and deserve," said Tweed Authority Executive Director Sean Scanlon in a release issued immediately after the vote. "Today's vote is yet another positive step in that direction.
"An improved Tweed will provide the air service that southern Connecticut has asked for, and it will spur continued economic development and job growth along the way," said Scanlon, who is expected to leave his position if he is elected state treasurer in November. "We have more steps ahead and will continue working with all our local partners as this successful project proceeds."
"While you would say that this has been rushed, I would say that what we're talking about today is the same thing we stood up and talked about in May of 2021," Scanlon said at the meeting, addressing concerns raised by both airport neighbors and East Haven members of the authority board.
"Nothing in this is definite," he said, pointing out that "we're still doing an environmental assessment ... If anything is found not to be environmentally sound, it won't happen," Scanlon said. " Tonight is just moving the process forward. It is not the final vote on the project."
Authority Chairman John Picard, former mayor of West Haven, said at the end of meeting, "We volunteer and we really do what we feel is best ... for the region and for all of us, and we're going to continue to do what we feel is best."
Picard, who at the end of the meeting was unanimously reelected as chairman, said in the release, "Our focus in expanding the airport is to offer people more choices and more destinations, while remaining convenient and an economic driver for our local communities. We've been grateful for our long-term partnership with Avports and will continue to provide top-notch air travel experiences and services for our community."
Avports CEO Jorge Roberts said, "We are excited to enter into this new agreement with Tweed and our partners in local government. This lease agreement provides a first-of-its-kind flexibility to airport municipalities. We recognize our responsibility to ensure a sustainable airport and to expand upon Avports' track record as a leader in environmental, social, and governance principles. The future is very bright at HVN."
The authority, through the long-term sublease and development agreement, will cede control of certain portions of the airport to The New HVN LLC, a new corporation that is a subsidiary of Avports LLC.
Avports, owned by a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, has managed Tweed for the past 23 years. As part of the agreement, it will invest money in airport operation and expansion, eliminating $1.8 million in annual city and state subsidies.
The plans calls for a broader partnership under which Avports will invest about $100 million to extend the usable length of Tweed's runway from 5,600 feet to 6,635 feet by paving currently grassy runway safety area.
They also call for Avports to build a new 74,000-square-foot, carbon-neutral terminal with four to six departure gates on the East Haven side of the airport, with a new entrance to be constructed off Proto Drive in East Haven.
Avports also would be fully responsible for Tweed's operating expenses, eliminating the need for subsidies.
The lease and development agreement lays out what The New HVN LLC would spend on community benefits, including $1.5 million on traffic management — split between New Haven and East Haven — $1.5 million on noise mitigation, expanding it to include full blocks when part of a block qualifies, $1.75 million as an "unassigned" community benefit for smaller issues in either New Haven or East Haven, and $250,000 for general aviation noise abatement.
The reactions of the New Haven and East Haven mayors could not have been more different.
"Today's announcement is one more important step forward toward ensuring long-term stability at Tweed Airport that will grow our local economy, provide high-quality travel options for residents, good-paying jobs for families and address critical noise, traffic, safety and financial concerns as well," said New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.
"I am thankful for the partnership and commitments made by the Tweed Board of Directors and Avports, and today's lease approval is a meaningful milestone toward responsible growth and a long-term partnership at Tweed-New Haven Airport," Elicker said.
Carfora told the authority, "I want it to be clear to my constituents: I am against the expansion of this airport to the East Haven side. I have asked consistently for a shared burden — and our requests have been uniformly denied. This agreement is being rushed, meetings and engagement were limited leading up to this vote using COVID-19 and remote meetings in order to limit transparency.
"The facts about how it is before you today are astounding," Carfora said. "We were denied access to it last week by Mr. Scanlon. It was relayed to us Sunday, not enough time for any of our board members to fully digest and seek interpretation on what is contained in this document or its impact on the town. Having said that, it does not take an expert to see that there is not shared burden.
" East Haven takes it on the chin while we will inherit all the traffic, transient population, parking headaches, ecological strip-mining, noise, pollution and burden on our already taxed public safety departments that will come with this project, while at the same time giving New Haven most of the economic benefit, serving at the behest of Yale and Goldman Sachs," Carfora said.
"I have said all along that I wanted to be a good neighbor," he said. "It is simply not possible given the way this lease is being handled. Our town has signed nothing. We have agreed to nothing. We have hired specialized counsel, and federal aviation counsel. All avenues will be taken to protect our community.
" East Haven is not afraid of a street fight; we never have been," Carfora said, "but it is clear that Mr. Picard, Mr. Scanlon, Mayor Elicker have partnered with Yale, AvPorts, and Goldman Sachs to create a plan that not only hurts the quality of life in East Haven, but also the quality of life for an entire section of the city of New Haven."
He also revealed that "prior to this meeting, the Town of East Haven sent Mr. Scanlon, Mr. Picard" and other officials "a litigation hold letter to preserve any and all communications regarding this matter, and most importantly everything leading up to it."
In addition to the lease and development agreement, the authority passed resolutions to approve an amended and restated lease between the city and the authority, accept a federal Small Community Air Service Development Program grant, create a new Advisory Committee made up largely of former board members, amend the authority's bylaws, approve an amendment to the agreement with Avports and publish rules, regulations and minimum standards for the airport.
East Haven authority members Ken Dagliere, Linda Hennessey, Town Council member Ray Pompano and Kevin Coyle, led by Dagliere, tried unsuccessfully to table all of those resolutions, saying in each case they did not have enough time to read and digest them. Each vote failed and each subsequent motion to approve a resolution passed by a 9-4 vote.
The authority also unanimously elected Guilford First Selectman Matt Hoey to serve as vice chairman, former New Haven city official Serena Neal-Sanjurjo to serve as treasurer and East Haven appointee and former Town Council member Hennessey to serve as secretary.
About 20 members of the public spoke prior to the votes, with all but about four of them speaking against expansion and/or what they felt was the authority "rushing" to approve the lease and development agreement.
"I'm appalled that some of these members are on here today," said East Haven resident and frequent Tweed critic Lorena Venegas, referring to several board members whose terms have expired but have yet to be replaced. She said the agreement and expansion are premature because "you cannot doing anything with ... Avports without having an entrance and egress from East Haven."
"I am just appalled at the behavior of the board, Tweed and the town of New Haven, the way they treat the residents," said East Haven resident Jean Edwards-Chieppo. "It's as if they do not matter, they do not exist."
"It is appalling! Find your conscience. It's absolutely diabolical," Chieppo said. "This is not a joke. It's our lives."
Garrett Sheehan, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the lease agreement, saying it would continue the controlled growth" taking place at Tweed.
Barbara Malmberg of East Haven, a project manager for REX Development in New Haven, said she bought her home near the airport because she wanted easy access to flights. " REX Development supports the responsible growth of the region" and "this is an opportunity to make that happen, big-time," she said.
Lisa Bassani, of New Haven's Morris Cove section, said of Tweed neighbors, "We feel disregarded. We feel unheard ... We live here. We live in the community. It's a residential neighborhood. We have a K-8 school here. We have a church here ... We have not been heard."
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