A small aside at the Omni Hotel on Thursday morning may aggravate preexisting tensions between Tweed New Haven Regional Airport and East Haven.
At Thursday’s annual meeting of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, amid upbeat conversation about city commerce and youth initiatives, Chamber Director Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 introduced a proposal asking East Haven officials to support the “successful development” of ongoing construction at Tweed. A proposal to build a new runway at the airport has been delayed for over two months because of complaints from East Haven, including the mayor, about how the expansion would destroy the surrounding wetlands.
Morand said the proposal is meant to reaffirm the group’s support for Tweed expansion — for which construction could begin on the East Haven border as early as next week. The chairman of Tweed Airport Authority, Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00, who was not at the meeting, said that he appreciates — and expects — support from the chamber.
Morand mentioned the proposal, which was included as an insert in meeting programs, with a light-hearted reference to his day job.
“Since I come from a university, I offer a little homework assignment,” the associate vice president of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs said, asking his audience to fill out the proposal inserts, titled “Tweed Works for Me.”
At least half of the audience members pulled out their pens right away to write in their names and contact information.
After the meeting, Morand said the proposal, which will be shown to New Haven and East Haven officials, is meant to highlight the benefits of the expansion.
“A better Tweed means more jobs and more taxes for East Haven,” he said.
Although Volchek said he meets with Morand “once or twice a month,” he said he did not participate in drafting the proposal.
The proposal comes three days after the end of a 60-day pause on Tweed construction requested by East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon after she and other residents sued the Tweed Airport Authority over a permit from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. The permit for the first phase allowed Tweed to expand the airport safety zones into the nearby wetlands, part of which is in East Haven.
The East Haven residents have contested the permit, saying the airport cannot intrude into the wetlands, which are owned by the town.
The second phase of the project calls for the removal of all trees that will obstruct a new runway to be built on the grounds.
In the past, the authority had tried multiple times to expand the airport, but each attempt failed after community members voiced strong opposition.
Construction was originally supposed to begin on Feb. 22, but the Tweed Authority decided to honor Almon’s request and stop construction until the community and the company could reach an agreement.
But now, the time is up; the pause officially ended Monday, and the Authority will start construction again “as early as next week,” Volchek said Thursday.
And tensions between the Authority and East Haven have not cooled.
“Nothing’s really been resolved, and at this point I don’t see the town of East Haven’s position changing,” Almon told the Register this week. “I was hoping we could work something out.”
Volchek declined to comment on East Haven’s objections to the project, but he said only “a small group of folks” was concerned with the construction.
“We’re still wanting to work with East Haven,” Volchek said over the phone as he boarded an airplane Thursday afternoon. “It’s really in [Almon’s] court now.”
Volchek added that the authority will release more information on the proposal and the construction schedule to East Haven “as early as this weekend.”
The most recent round of outcry from New Haven represents a marked departure from only a couple of months ago, when Almon expressed optimism about possible cooperation between the two sides.
According to a Feb. 22 press release issued by the authority, Volchek and Tweed Airport Authority Director Timothy Larson had recently met with Almon in order to attempt to unite the community behind the project. Almon said in the press release that the authority was addressing “long-held concerns” for East Haven residents.
Now, East Haven officials will demand another halt in construction and will consider another lawsuit if Tweed Authority ignores their complaints, the Register reported Wednesday.
Multiple requests for comment from Almon’s office were unreturned Thursday.