A new show of support from the federal government in Tweed New Haven Regional Airport’s efforts to expand is providing a much-needed tailwind to the airport in its continued financial and legal struggles.
Late last week, the Federal Aviation Administration agreed to pay Tweed over $400,000 to cover 95 percent of its legal fees, Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00, chairman of Tweed’s Airport Authority, said Sunday. Those expenses have accumulated in an ongoing legal battle between the airport and the town of East Haven, where some residents oppose Tweed’s expansion and say they see the FAA’s move as another example of the agency prioritizing expansion over local concerns.
Tweed, which straddles New Haven and East Haven, has been undergoing a federally mandated — and largely federally funded — renovation that includes the construction of runway safety zones extending into portions of East Haven owned by the airport.
The FAA’s move comes at a time when Tweed is about $235,000 in debt and “very, very aggressively trying to generate new sources of revenue,” Tim Larson, the airport’s executive director, said in an update to the New Haven Board of Aldermen Finance Committee last Wednesday.
Although the additional money from the FAA will help to allay Tweed’s financial troubles, the airport’s dispute with East Haven remains unresolved.
On behalf of local residents concerned about the traffic, noise and environmental impact of Tweed’s expansion, East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon submitted a cease-and-desist order in April to delay construction. Tweed officials filed a federal lawsuit in response, and a decision in the case is expected next month.
Volchek said he thinks Tweed is “very likely” to win the suit. But if the airport should lose and then appeal the decision, he added, the FAA’s coverage of Tweed’s legal fees could prove an important demonstration of the federal government’s support for the expansion project.
Capone Almon said the FAA’s $400,000 award to Tweed will not change East Haven’s course of action, but, she said, the move conveys a familiar disregard for the interests of the town and its residents.
“I think it’s the same message that New Haven and the Airport Authority have been sending the whole time, which is that they’re going to make every effort to plow through East Haven regardless of what our citizens and taxpayers think,” Capone Almon said Sunday.
Although Tweed has a permit from Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection to expand into East Haven, some residents, including members of the East Shore Conservation Association, insist the airport still needs the community’s approval because the expansion could negatively affect quality of life in the surrounding community. The association, its head Michael Criscuolo said, is currently appealing the DEP’s permit in a separate court case.
Criscuolo said his group will consult attorneys next week to decide how it will proceed in response the FAA’s decision. The FAA’s increased financial commitment to Tweed, he said, might require the federal agency to also provide funds to the town of East Haven and to Criscuolo’s association.
“[The FAA is] going to be paying legal fees [to Tweed]; they also might be liable for legal fees for the town of East Haven and our committee,” he said. “They mandated the safety area. They caused this problem… They’re setting a precedent here by paying for legal fees for a case they’re not even involved in.”
But Volchek said the FAA’s decision is an important demonstration of the federal government’s support for New Haven and for a safer, more active Tweed. New Haven residents — whose tax dollars are helping to fund the airport’s renovation — also benefit from the FAA’s show of support, Volchek added.
Representatives from the FAA could not be reached for comment Sunday evening.
Tweed currently hosts up t0 10 flights per day, all on US Airways Express between Tweed and Philadelphia.