A judge had to call order in an East Haven Elementary school auditorium on Wednesday night, as mumbled obscenities and groans of disapproval about proposed construction at Tweed-New Haven Airport became too loud to ignore.
Sparks flew as residents, business representatives and environmental experts discussed the future of the airport in front of a Department of Environmental Protection judge. Tweed hopes to extend current runways and taxiways to ensure flight safety and set the stage for future expansion, but the DEP must first decide whether the plan warrants the destruction of 14.56 acres of wetlands that currently stand in the way of the proposed construction sites.
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Tweed is seeking permission to add runway safety areas — intended to prevent harm in the event of an undershot or overshot on landing — and extend taxiway B to alleviate the current danger of planes’ taxiing and taking off on the same surface. The public hearing was a step in the DEP’s tentative approval of the airport’s request for a construction permit, which will cannot be officially granted until the judge presents the case to the DEP’s commissioner.
Area residents expressed outrage over the proposal, which is the first step in a larger plan to expand Tweed’s capacity, saying it would undermine the efforts of several East Haven groups concerned with marsh conservation. Some of the consequences of building a runway safety zone, community members said, include anticipated water issues related to stream relocation, changes to the area’s biodiversity as a result of introducing salt water back into freshwater marshes, increased traffic issues and pollution of well water.
In hopes of mitigating the environmental effects, the proposal includes $1 million to create or enhance 55 acres of wetlands. The plan necessitates the relocation of small waterways in the area, including Tuttle Creek and Morris Brook, as well as Dodge Avenue.
Though he is a self-identified Republican in favor of commerce, local resident Scott Thomas complained about inconveniences he might face if the proposal is approved.
“More runoff means more water in my basement, and that’s bad for my personal environment,” he said.
Len Fasano, the District 34 state senator representing East Haven, said the proposal violates the Connecticut State Plan of Conservation and Development, which the DEP must take into consideration before coming to a decision on the matter. Instead of focusing on expanding Tweed, he said, more money should be allocated to Bradley Airport, which he called more profitable and commercial.
Sal Rapiciello, a local resident, agreed. Building up Tweed would simply take business away from Bradley, “moving our eggs from one basket to another,” he said.
But Neo Sullivan, a 40-year Morse Cove resident, said he supports building the safety zone.
“I think most of the people here tonight are from East Haven and are opposed, but I don’t think they represent a majority in the surrounding communities,” he said.
Representatives of the business community turned out in droves to speak in favor of the construction, as an ultimate increase in passenger traffic would bring more patrons to the region. At one point, DEP Judge Janice B. Deshais had to remind the audience to stick to the topic at hand and to focus on the environmental, rather than economic, impact of the permits.
The issue will be discussed again at a hearing in Hartford next week with a larger DEP delegation.
The project will cost an estimated $18 million, with 90 percent of the funding to come from the Federal Aviation Administration. The rest will be drawn from airport, city and state funds.