Many Yalies from out of state or country are familiar with flying into LaGuardia or Bradley International Airports to get to campus, but plans are in the works to make New Haven’s own airport, Tweed, a more frequented terminal.
But obstacles persist.
The Board of Aldermen met Thursday at City Hall with two members of Tweed’s Airport Authority Board, a 14-member volunteer committee that oversees the airport’s development. The members discussed how the Airport Authority intends to procure both community support and funding for its proposals, which are aimed at reviving an underperforming Tweed, despite the fact that some residents currently oppose the airport’s construction plans.
Airport Authority Chairman Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00 began by outlining the Authority’s two infrastructure initiatives. The first project, he said, is to construct two safety zones on each side of the airport’s runway — a move Volcheck said is necessary for Tweed to meet the standards needed to retain its certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. He explained that the second initiative is the elimination of obstruction of protected airspace, namely that caused by trees.
The goal of the expansion, Volchek said, is to restore Tweed to its level of activity of 10 or 15 years ago. The airport currently has only one airline, U.S. Airways, and Volchek acknowledged that Tweed has a reputation for being inconvenient and unreliable.
But with the intended improvements and future development, he said, “We really could have meaningful jet service to, say, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and other places.”
Volchek said Tweed has a permit from the State of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection to expand into Tweed-owned portions of the wetlands of East Haven, where the airport is partially located. But Volchek said the permit is now being contested in court by East Haven and has met strong opposition from the area’s residents, including East Haven’s mayor, April Capone Almon.
Ward 18 Alderwoman Arlene DePino pointed out that local newspapers have reported that Capone Almon issued a cease and desist order to halt the construction. But Volchek and Kelly Murphy — the other Airport Authority Board member who is also the City of New Haven’s economic development administrator — said the Airport Authority had not received any formal notification and that it plans to proceed based on the approval granted by the DEP’s permit.
“We’d like to have an amicable relationship,” Volchek said, of the airport’s interaction with East Haveners, but he said the Airport Authority can legally proceed without the consent of East Haven.
That’s where Timothy Larson, former mayor of East Hartford and newly appointed executive director of the Airport Authority, comes in. Volchek said part of Larson’s job will be to work on public relations and communication with the city and state about the airport’s development initiatives.
“We think he’ll really be able to pull together some of the residents,” Volchek said.
Volchek also clarified that “there’s nothing to cease” because construction has not begun yet; the only action taken by the airport so far, Murphy said, has been the preliminary clearing of some land.
Murphy said she thinks a small but vocal group of East Haven residents have been responsible for much of the resistance to the airport’s expansion — namely complaints about potential increases in noise and traffic — but that improvements to Tweed would in fact help the area by stimulating business and economic growth. In addition, Volchek said East Haven would benefit from the tax revenue from the airport’s jets.
Ward 4 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks suggested that the best way to approach East Haven residents is to inform them explicitly of the airport’s plans.
“The big issue is someone needs to talk to the people that are affected,” she said. “It doesn’t seem that any attempt has been made to do that.”
Volchek said this twofold project should take approximately 270 days to complete, and construction is set to begin in about two weeks, once the Airport Authority makes some minor technical changes with regards to insurance requirements. But the action in court has prevented the airport from even starting its construction.
“If we see major delays … the whole FAA certification could be in jeopardy,” Volchek said.
This statement led several aldermen to ask what would become of Tweed should the contest of the expansion delay construction for too long or prevent it altogether. Volchek said, while the possibility does exist that the airport might lose its tower or have to downsize, the state or federal governments could step in on safety and national-security grounds.
While the Board of Aldermen in general was supportive of Volchek’s approach to the issue, Board president Carl Goldfield stressed the importance of tangible results.
“The problem’s been … that this is now the sixth or seventh year, and we’re at the end of a tunnel, but the light doesn’t seem to make it.”
Several members of the Board of Aldermen asked Volchek and Murphy what the initiative would require of New Haven in terms of funding. Volchek said the FAA has agreed to pay for 95 percent of the infrastructure updates, the state will pay for about 3 percent and the rest of the money will come from local funding. But Volchek said the Airport Authority would ask for additional funds from the state in order to minimize the cost to the city.