Decision on Tweed runways may come soon

A state decision on proposed runway safety extensions at Tweed-New Haven Airport could happen soon, after 16 months of deliberations.

The Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority filed a permit application in Nov. 2000 with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to create 1,000-foot unpaved runway safety areas on either end of the current 5,600 foot runway.

The improvements would bring Tweed closer to the needs of large airlines for reaching major hubs 800 miles from New Haven.

“We haven’t made a decision yet,” said Matt Fritz, a DEP spokesperson. “It could be tomorrow, or it could be in a week or so.”

The airport’s authority approved a 20-year master plan on Feb. 20 that would include 600 feet of additional runway expansion if it gains state and federal approval.

The master plan also proposes paving the safety areas to further increase Tweed’s runway. The combined improvements would provide 7,200 feet for takeoffs and 6,200 feet for landings, according to the draft of the master plan. Such runway distances could very well convince airlines to return jet service to Tweed for the first time since 1994.

The runway safety areas would require filling 9.73 acres of tidal wetlands and restoring 37 to 43 acres of wetlands around the airport. But proceeding with the master plan’s additional expansion measures would damage some of these restored wetlands.

Initial feedback from the DEP does not appear supportive of the general master plan.

A letter sent by DEP official Charles H. Evans to a consultant for the airport in late January stated, “We must also stress that it is highly unlikely this office would permit any alternative, which includes runway extension into restored tidal wetlands.”

But members of the airport authority remain confident that the safety measures will pass.

“I definitely think they’ll approve it,” authority Chairman Edwin Van Selden said. “It’s just a question of when.”

Van Selden said he finds the DEP’s long decision process frustrating.

“Quite frankly, we keep on answering the same questions over and over again,” Van Selden said.

But Fritz defended the DEP’s procedures.

“Basically, that’s just how these things work,” Fritz said. “It’s the normal process.”

The DEP’s decision will closely follow the results of this weekend’s New Haven Regional Dialogue, in which 73 percent of participants supported expansion of Tweed.

Fritz said that the expected application from the airport authority regarding the master plan will not affect the DEP’s decision on the current safety zones.

“The only application we’re actually doing right now is the safety improvements,” Fritz said.

The safety areas would require three construction seasons to complete in their unpaved format. Basic engineering on the project would begin immediately following DEP approval, Van Selden said.

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