Friday, November 29, 2002
Hanscom hearing draws emotional overflow crowd
Vociferous area residents overflowed the Bedford High School auditorium and several classrooms at the November 19 hearing on a Hanscom Field environmental impact report prepared by Massport. The crowd sat through five tightly packed hours as agencies, consultants and private citizens commented on the report. The meeting was originally scheduled for the Bedford Town Hall a week earlier, but had to be cancelled because the facility could not accommodate the crowd.
This was anything but a perfunctory hearing, frequently punctuated by standing ovations, catcalls and shouted comments from the audience. It provided an opportunity for public comment on the report as well as an outlet for the frustrations of area residents and legislators after a decade of trying to work out an agenda with Massport.
Under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), which operates Hanscom, is required to produce an environmental review every five years. Massport, which needs MEPA certification to operate the airport, is under additional pressure because of a December 16 deadline for Robert Durand, head of the Massachusetts Department of Enviroinmental Protection, to act on the certification.
Within this emotional and political climate, Jay Wickersham, director of the state MEPA office, presided over a very full agenda which began with statements from elected officials and concluded, just before midnight, with individual comments.
Lack of trust
Most of the response to Massport's report, which was prepared by Rizzo and Associates of Boston, was critical. Lexington state representative Jay Kaufman talked about Massport's "ad hoc decisions" and "irresponsible use of public trust." State senator Susan Fargo spoke of wanting to establish "a relationship with a public agency that can be based on trust." She mentioned Massport's previous assurance that Hanscom would remain a general aviation (as opposed to commercial) airport and said, "If we public officials conducted ourselves like that, we would be ridden out of town." Nancy Nelson, superintendent of the Minute Man National Historical Park, said, "All we are seeking is a fair process." Another speaker raged, "Communities are not only not supported but are back-stabbed [by Massport]."
Methods and data collection questioned
The report had three major focus areas: an assessment of the present status of the airport based on year 2000 data, extrapolations of activity to the year 2015, and mitigation proposals for existing and predicted conditions which did not meet environmental impact criteria, such as noise or storm water drainage. All three areas received harsh criticism.
Complaints about the methodology are too numerous to catalog. Kaufman knocked "shoddy data collected, shoddy facts, shoddy analysis." Nelson said she was disappointed, but not surprised by, Massport's failure to identify real impacts. Sarah Mattes, chairman of the Lincoln selectmen, cited a "lack of attention to due diligence in the [data collection] methodology" and requested that Massport be required to revisit their approach. "A million dollar investment and our return is zero," she said. Where Massport did not identify a problem — for example, claiming that noise levels are within the 65 decibel limit, no mitigation measures were recommended or undertaken.
Lincoln's Sarah Mattes objected to the inquiry methodology, which involved only phone conversations, with no standardized set of questions or mailed list of questions prior to the interview. The superintendent of Minuteman National Historical Park said that two of the three proposed roundabouts are in the national park and would require a taking on national park land. This is not mentioned; neither is the fact that 50 acres of Massport land lie within the park boundary. Maps showing these facts are not included.
Data accuracy and omissions
Another speaker pointed out that the entire assessment hinges on the accuracy and scope of the forecast, concluding that "flaws in the document suggest data can't be used for any reasonable planning purpose."
Brenda Kelley, speaking as one concerned with conservation issues in Bedford, asked that the report include maps showing the relation of projected activities to wetlands and include water management data, because of past flooding in the area. She also wants recommendations for monitoring ground and surface water and is concerned about deicing and jet fuel contaminants. Deicing is not mentioned in the report.
Noise assessment metrics were criticized as inadequate and the 65dB contour map was dismissed as a poor predictor of compliance and misleading. A traffic analysis professional said that report ignores several traffic issues and provides data inconsistent with other reports. Average daily traffic has increased 89% since the last envoronmental study in1995. The Mass Highway Department estimates 19% increase per year. He said regular traffic monitoring needs to be required in the report.
Another stated deficit is that where local master plans exist, they have not been considered in the report and the recommendations, and inconsistencies between the Massport view of Hanscom and local data (traffic counts) have not been addressed.
Statistics and projections
Lisa Baci, consultant for HATS (Hanscom Area Towns Subcommittee) cited the following stats and estimates:
Year passengers night flights
2000 162,000 659,000
2015 20,000 55,000
In addition there is a possibility of 700 more parking spaces by 2015, with proliferation of blacktop covering over recharge area for local water supplies.
The Massport plan projects three new access points, Hartwell Road, South Road and Hartwell Avenue in Lexington as a new cargo road. A hotel and several flight schools are envisioned. A new hangar will be built on the north side.
Participants were concerned that night operations have escalated from 532 in 1982, to 734 in 1984, 1,918 in 2000, and a projected 7,545 in 2015. Engine runups, which are very noisy, were not included in the noise analysis and so the report does not offer any noise mitigation recommendations, which is one of the biggest concerns of nearby residents.
Regional transportation plan
Many participants stressed the need for a comprehensive, regional transportation plan. Hanscom is the second busiest airport in New England. Kaufman, Fargo, and a representative from Congressman Markey's office joined with local representatives in recommending that a multistate transportation plan be included in the report.
The door for public comment on the report closes on November 29. The certification is scheduled for December 16, but there was no indication at the meeting how the many criticisms would be addressed within that timetable.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito