The East Haven Town Council is set face off in court against the Greater New Haven Airport Authority, now that the council has rejected a plan to install “runway safety areas” at Tweed New Haven Regional Airport.
The airport’s plan calls for Tweed to use 13 acres of East Haven land to create safety areas at both sides of its runway in order to bring the regional airport into compliance with FAA regulations.
But the East Haven Council, in a united display of distrust of the airport, has blocked the safety areas, saying they believe the proposal is really the opening salvo in an eventual plan to expand Tweed. The rejection means that Connecticut’s Superior Court will have to mediate between the Council and the airport, a case which the airport believes it will easily win.
April Almon, a Council member and the Democratic candidate for mayor in East Haven, called the project a “Trojan horse,” saying she believes the land will eventually be paved over to lengthen the runway. Almon said the airport’s attorney, Hugh Manke, had told her that the land would eventually be paved over in about 15 years. Airport expansion is deeply opposed by her constituents, she said.
Though Tweed’s master plan calls for the eventual expansion of the airport’s runway and general operations, airport officials maintain that any such plans are completely hypothetical.
“The master plan includes basically what might amount to a wish list,” said Lawrence DeNardis, chair of the Airport Authority. “We have no intention of going any further in the immediate future … We have no plan to pursue the later stages. Plans are subject to change.”
DeNardis said there are no plans to pave the safety areas and that even if there were, the airport could not go through with them without first seeking outside approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Approval would also have to come from New Haven’s Board of Aldermen and East Haven’s Town Council.
Tweed is owned by New Haven but partially located in East Haven, meaning that both the Town Council and the Board of Aldermen must approve any changes. The Board unanimously approved the safety areas at almost the same time the Council rejected them. Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said this is a perennial pattern with the airport, as East Haven has long seen Tweed as an imposition.
“This was not a surprise,” Mattison said. “East Haven has traditionally regarded the airport as something they’d rather not have. The residents object to the noise. Now, it’s true that the planes used to be quite noisy, but that has not been the case for five years or so.”
DeNardis questioned whether East Haven residents really oppose the airport, and said he thinks the Council is motivated by political considerations in opposing the safety areas.
“If there was actually a referendum, I would say 60 percent or more would support a reasonable and economically viable [expansion] plan,” he said.
But Almon denied this, saying that, as the sole Democrat on the Council, she receives phone calls from residents “all over town” opposing the expansion.
The safety areas are mandated by federal law. Almon said she is not against safety, but she believes there are other ways to install the safety areas that do not involve an eventual increase in the runway length.
Only one carrier — US Airways — currently serves Tweed, which operates flights to Philadelphia. Pan-Am Clipper Connection started a trial run of service to four regional destinations in March, but suspended the service in July.