It took four decades, but expansion for Tweed New Haven Regional Airport was finally approved for liftoff.
After a storied clash between the East Haven and New Haven governments over the embattled airport — and months of mediation between the two parties — East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. agreed last week to settle their differences and take the final steps toward Tweed revitalization.
Surrounded by state and local officials at the State Capitol on March 16, the two mayors announced a memorandum of agreement that, among other things, approves the construction of two highly disputed runway safety zones at the end of the airport’s over-mile-long main runway and increases East Haven’s representation on the 14-member volunteer committee Tweed Airport Authority Board to five members from two.
Although Gov. M. Jodi Rell said the state will be unable to foot the airport’s funding shortfalls in the short run, airport and state officials remain optimistic that the compromise will allow the airport to make progress in its service offerings.
“It shows when you have leaders of two towns combined by bipartisanism across those two towns, you’re able to put away bias, you’re able to put away certain conflicts, sit down, and come to an agreement that benefits the state of Connecticut,” state Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said at the announcement.
A NEW PERIOD OF COOPERATION
State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) called the agreement “historic” and emphasized that Tweed can now become a “viable, small airport.”
In addition to approving extended runway safety zones, Capone Almon and DeStefano agreed to establish an airport service limit of 30 departures per day, 180,000 boardings per year and 700 parking spaces. Currently, the airport has five departures per day and 700 parking spaces. The New Haven Register reported last week that the highest number of Tweed boardings in a year has been about 135,000.
Both mayors will look to attract airlines to fly at Tweed: When Delta Air Lines announced in October 2005 that it would discontinue service to the airport due to financial woes, US Airways became the only airline to fly through Tweed.
The two mayors also approved a “good neighbor” program to create traffic-calming and noise-reducing initiatives at the airport. They agreed to allow expansion of the airport’s taxiway, which was given a $5.8-million federal grant earlier this month.
Last week, both Capone Almon and DeStefano called the agreement a fitting compromise, but six months ago, any compromise between the two cities seemed unlikely.
In October, Tweed Airport officials won a federal lawsuit filed against East Haven officials to prevent them from “interfering” with construction of the two safety zones. East Haven officials subsequently filed an appeal.
For years, Capone Almon maintained that the airport’s expansion into East Haven reduced quality of life for East Haven residents and was approved without the municipality’s consent.
But now, after the two mayors sat down in mediation with Community Mediation Executive Director Charles Pillsbury ’70 to forge an agreement, Capone Almon said she was glad East Haven would be granted more representation in Tweed affairs.
“East Haven now has a large, substantive voice on the Airport Authority,” she said at the announcement.
City and airport officials said the move will agreement will pave the way for increased commercialism at the airport, which would help Tweed break even.
Still, the treaty leaves unanswered Tweed’s economic malaise.
“It would have been easier to put this deal together two years ago,” Fasano told Hartford-based television station WFSB last week, “because now … the uncertainty with state pulling back their finances, airlines cutting back on their routes, made it a little bit more difficult to put this deal together.”
Gov. Rell has proposed a $38-billion budget to the state legislature that would cut all $570,000 of state funding to the independently owned Tweed. If passed, the cut would exacerbate Tweed officials’ budget woes and may cause the airport to return to its old owner, the city of New Haven. Such a move could cause the airport to close for good because it would force the city to absorb more than $30 million, including $2 million in operating costs and $29 million necessary to repay outstanding grants to the Federal Aviation Administration, City Hall spokeswoman Mayorga said last year.
Now, Capone Almon and DeStefano have agreed to support legislative bills that would provide $2 million of the state bailout funds for Tweed. But it is highly unlikely that the state will approve this request; Rell said last month that the state does not have any available funds for the airport.
A revitalized Tweed will certainly stimulate New Haven economy, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Rescigno and Tweed Airport Authority Chairman Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00 have said. And the airport will help the University, Yale officials said: Tweed would provide another means of transportation for students and some landing space for its traveling business executives and commercial investors.
Some local business leaders said they will not allow the airport to fail. Rescigno told the News last month that he would work to secure the funds for Tweed if needed.
March 11, after local business leaders pledged to match city funds, the aldermanic finance committee voted to approve a $160,000 one-time city grant to Tweed. The grant will now be presented to the full aldermanic board for a vote April 6.