Elicker and Brennan split on Tweed Airport expansion
While Justin Elicker’s campaign has endorsed the expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport, Liam Brennan’s team told the News they would not commit to a position before seeing the environmental impact statement.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
Ahead of Tuesday’s primary election, former Hartford Inspector General Liam Brennan and two-term incumbent Mayor Justin Elicker remained split on the Tweed New Haven Airport’s expansion.
Elicker and Brennan’s opposing stances marked New Haveners’ clashing views in the ongoing debate over the airport’s expansion deal. Elicker, who ultimately defeated Brennan in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election, has supported the expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport throughout his time in office, while Brennan chose to withhold his opinion until an in-depth assessment on the environmental impact of the airport’s expansion is released.
In 2021, city alders approved a 43-year lease between the city and airport authorities, where Avports, a Goldman Sachs owned private airport manager and operator company, will manage Tweed for the duration of the lease and invest $100 million in total for the renovation and maintenance of the airport. Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Board of Directors approved this expansion plan on the evening of Aug. 16, 2023.
As part of the proposal, the airport will expand its runway and build a new terminal on the East Haven side of the airport.
In a phone call with the News, Elicker said that Tweed’s expansion generates economic opportunities and jobs, including flight attendants, security officers and baggage handlers.
“Tweed is an important amenity for thousands of people in the city with affordable flights going to places people want to go,” Elicker said. “It’s created hundreds of jobs, so it’s a very important asset to the city as a whole.”
Plans to expand Tweed sparked discontent among residents and alders in surrounding neighborhoods, especially following the addition of new airline Avelo in November 2021. Residents and alders focused their complaints about the Tweed expansion on car traffic, noise, sea level rise and environmental issues as well as the $1 million dollar per year subsidy the airport currently requires from the city.
Susan Campion, who helped found the activist organization opposing the expansion, which is called 10,000 Hawks, alleged that the coalition of people in the Greater New Haven area who are concerned about and in opposition to Tweed’s expansion has grown rapidly in the past year.
“My position is that I absolutely support the ongoing environmental investigation and studies … and anxiously awaiting the report for the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration],” Campion said. “[Not only] in terms of the air pollution, in terms of the noise pollution, the sound, the water, most importantly, quality of life, public health, safety, the environmental impact … that is not something you can gloss over.”
In response to Campion’s concerns, Elicker explained that the plan eliminates the $1 million annual subsidy that the city has given the airport and enables the city to invest money in other areas. Elicker also mentioned that constructing a terminal on the East Haven side of the airport will reduce vehicle traffic and move traffic to roads that are larger.
According to a letter of intent, under the lease agreement, Avports is also required to invest up to $1.75 million in noise mitigation programs, as part of $5 million dedicated to community investments. Other community investments will attempt to address traffic and environmental concerns stemming from Tweed’s current operations and expansion plans. Avports will pay the city an annual base rent of $550,000 per year.
According to Elicker, the project aims to adapt the airport in response to rising sea levels. The terminal will be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, and will be elevated on stilts to avoid flooding, which occurred in the current airport terminal in 2023. The plan will also turn a current runway into water containment areas, to prevent flooding in nearby residential areas.
Prior to Elicker’s reelection, he had suggested that Brennan’s stance on Tweed expansion had been ambiguous and noncommittal.
The Tweed Airport Authority published an initial statement on the environmental impacts of the airport in March. According to Elicker, the environmental assessment process is ongoing through the FAA, which will incorporate community feedback into a final report.
In a phone interview with the News, former mayoral candidate Liam Brennan explained the importance of a potential environmental impact statement.
“Whatever happens here is going to last for a generation,” Brennan said, “and I am very concerned about the potential environmental impact. I can’t assess them all myself right now, but I think having an appropriate assessment of this should really inform what we decide to do here.”
According to Brennan, the United States Environmental Protection Agency may or may not decide to publish a final impact statement. In the scenario where the EPA does not publish the statement, Brennan responded that he would be unsure of his opinion on the Tweed Expansion.
Brennan argued that such a statement would be beneficial because of the real impacts it can have on people’s health and safety, and discussed his experience with the negative environmental consequences of airport Tweed operations.
“I was on Fort Harrell Road while a jet idled on the runway across from people’s homes,” recalled Brennan. “The smell from the jet fuel was … painful. It was giving me a headache and I was only out there for a few minutes.”
Brennan also said the Greater New Haven Chamber of Congress, which represents the economic interest of business owners from the greater New Haven area, believes that an environmental impact statement would dissuade the expansion from occurring.
The New Haven Tweed Airport is 394 acres, located in both New Haven and East Haven.