The renovation of the Tweed-New Haven Airport is experiencing considerable turbulence.
At a public hearing before the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee on Wednesday evening, Tweed’s Executive Director Tim Larson told city legislators that although the airport has made progress on runway construction, legal objections from East Haven residents and limited funds are impeding further developments.
Flanked by Michael Piscitelli, New Haven’s director of transportation, and Lori Hoffman-Soares, Tweed’s airport manager, Larson told the committee that construction of safety zones on the south side of Tweed’s runway — a federally mandated project paid for with a Federal Aviation Administration grant — should be finished by December.
As for the more contentious redevelopment of the north side of the airport, Larson said an FAA grant has been approved to fund the construction of a runway safety area there. But the issue of complaints from some residents in East Haven, where part of the airport is located, is still being resolved.
Larson said he and other Tweed officials are awaiting a federal court decision on the airport’s right to redevelop that land. Although Tweed has a permit from Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection to expand into Tweed-owned portions of East Haven, residents there have expressed concerns about noise, traffic and flooding.
When East Haven mayor April Capone Almon submitted a cease-and-desist order in April to delay expansion into the town’s wetlands, Tweed officials filed a federal lawsuit in response. Larson said Wednesday that a decision is expected next month.
When committee member Jorge Perez, the Ward 5 alderman, asked how conflicts with East Haven had affected the pace of the construction, Larson said he has amicable contact with Capone Almon.
But the reconstruction project is facing financial as well as legal hurdles.
Of the $2.5 million needed for the renovation, Larson said, the City of New Haven has contributed $550,000 in subsidies. In addition, the State of Connecticut has granted Tweed $1.5 million in operating money until obstructions, such as trees and poles, can be removed from the property in order to make the runway longer and thus allow for the tracking of more carriers, Larson said.
The difference, Tweed officials hope, will be made up through what Piscitelli called a “roll-up-your sleeves, hunker-down attitude”: miscellaneous sales income from sources including parking fees, landing fees, rental-car businesses and ad sales. In addition, Larson said the airport plans to reach out to local universities to encourage student use of Tweed, as well as to local businesses and hospitals to encourage paid use of additional parking space at the airport.
“We’re very, very aggressively trying to generate new sources of revenue,” he said.
But Larson added that, while the airport started the year $750,000 in debt, that deficit has been reduced to about $235,000 — progress, but by no means an end to the airport’s struggles.
“We have a lot of work to do this fiscal year,” Piscitelli said, although he stressed that he does not want the airport to rely too heavily on New Haven taxpayers. Still, if sufficient funds are not obtained, Larson said he and other airport officials could be back before the Finance Committee at the beginning of next year to request a larger subsidy.
Larson added that a slow market, as well as the logistical hassle of having the airport simultaneously in operation and under construction, only makes matters more difficult.
These financial troubles have, for the time being, reduced the scale of Tweed’s master plan for redevelopment, Larson said. The plan originally included four phases: constructing safety areas around the runway, eliminating obstructions, paving the runway areas and building more terminals. At this point, Larson said, phases three and four are off the table — at least until the airport is able to accommodate more carriers.
The Finance Committee voted unanimously to accept Larson’s report by having it reprinted and filed.
In addition to addressing Tweed, the committee voted to recommend a proposal by Aegis Energy Services to establish cogeneration technology in six New Haven schools. The technology uses natural gas to generate electricity and, with the resulting heat, hot water. The company will offer the schools a 12-percent discount on electricity over a 10-year trial period, provided Aegis can secure a $200,000 grant from the state to jumpstart the program.