The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 15, 2003


Citizen groups fear FedEx' traffic, pollution, noise

Two tenacious citizen organizations opposed to significant expansion or change of use at Hanscom Air Field are carrying their latest battle nationwide. Safeguarding the Historic Hanscom Area's Irreplaceable Resources (ShhAir) and Save Our Heritage (SOH) are challenging corporate giant Federal Express (FedEx) in an effort to prevent that company from initiating major cargo service from what is already New England's second busiest airport, with 578 flight operations per day and 218,000 per year.

Representing area residents: HFAC and HATs

These signs can be seen around Carlisle and neighboring towns. (photo by Midge Eliassen)
As "No FedEx at Hanscom" signs blossomed in neighboring towns, and this time also in Carlisle, the Mosquito contacted Steve Lerner, the Carlisle Board of Selectmen's choice to replace the retiring Wayne Davis as this town's representative to the Hanscom Field Advisory Committee (HFAC). This is a body created by the state legislature in the late '70s to represent local town officials, airport users, pilots and other stakeholders. The U.S. Air Force, which operates the separate Hanscom Air Base and accounts for only about one percent of the airfield's traffic, is an ex officio member as is the Minuteman National Historic Park. HFAC and the Hanscom Area Towns Subcommittee (HATS), the latter of which was set up in a memorandum of understanding between the boards of selectmen in the four towns abutting the airfield (Bedford, Concord, Lexington and Lincoln) and the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), have also been active players in representing area residents. Lerner quickly answered our queries by arranging a meeting with the leaders of the two groups initiating the No FedEx campaign.

Citizen advocacy groups: ShhAir and SOH

Founded in the early 1990s as People Against Hanscom Airport Expansion, the movement successfully aborted a Continental Airways bid to bring in certificated passenger flights, and then as threats to the concept of Hanscom as a "general aviation" site appeared off and on, they incorporated as the non-profit organization ShhAir. According to its current president Margaret Coppe of Lexington, the organization's raison d'etre is "working to keep the operation of the airport compatible with the area it's in." In pursuit of this objective the 2,000-member group gathers information from all airport stakeholders, meets with local officials and state legislators, employs consultants, sends out mailings, posts e-mail alerts and maintains a website.

A corporate jet waits in front of one of Hanscom's two towers. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

Save Our Heritage (SOH), a spinoff from ShhAir, was founded by advocates who felt that grassroots activities are not sufficient in dealing with a development agency like Massport. To quote SOH project director Marty Pepper-Aisenberg, "Grassroots activists don't have enough political clout here or in Washington." Therefore SOH is moving to raise regional and national awareness of what they see as a serious threat to the "birthplace of the American Revolution, the home of the American literary renaissance and the cradle of the environmental movement." They have recruited board support from the congressional delegation (Marty Meehan, John Tierney and Ed Markey), former governor and Amtrak head Michael Dukakis, historians David McCullough and Shelby Foote, directors of environmental and historical organizations like the Great Meadows National Wildlife Service, the Sierra Club, the Massachusetts Historical Society, Minuteman National Historic Park, academicians from departments of history and American literature and celebrity activists like Paul Newman, Christopher Reeve and Don Henley.

Since their inception both groups have operated consistently to try to keep Hanscom as the "general aviation" facility envisioned in the Hanscom Field Master Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. By definition a "general aviation" facility serves private pilots corporate jets, charter flights and flight schools and often develops as a reliever airport for a major facility such as Logan. Crafted shortly after the U.S Air Force downsized its operations following the Vietnam War and turned the surplus Hanscom facilities over to the state and thence to Massport, the document recognized the environmental quality and historical significance of its surrounding communities and indicated that no major infrastructure improvements were contemplated.

Shuttle America episode

Whenever alerted to what appeared to be a Massport intention to widen the commercial uses of the facility, the various community organizations warned of what they saw as the dangers of expansion, specifically noise pollution, groundwater degradation, air pollution and damage to the wetlands and water recharge areas both within and adjacent to the airport's approximately 1,500 acres. But the series of events that seriously damaged the relationship with both the citizen groups and the more official HFAC and HATS occurred in the spring of 1999 when, in early June, Massport unexpectedly announced that Shuttle America wanted to begin commuter airline flights out of Hanscom. According to Wayne Davis, the announce-ment came right after the regular HFAC monthly meeting and informed their mem-bers that they had approxima-tely two weeks to comment. Once the FAA approval came through, the door would effectively be wide open for certificated passenger airline service. The deal went through and when the four towns sought a court injunction to prevent the airline startup, they were turned down on the grounds that Massport and the airline had already made an investment that should be protected.

Massport environmental report

The Civil Air Terminal building at Hanscom Field. (Photo by Mike Quayle)
Happily for its opponents the Shuttle America operation went bankrupt following 9/11/01, but suspicions have rankled, only to surface again when Massport presented its required five-year Environmental Status and Planning Report in the fall of 2002. According to Massport spokesman Richard Walsh, there were eight hearings and much consultation between experts hired by HATS at Massport's expense and the developers of the report. However, a final public hearing held by the Department of Environmental Protection at Bedford High School brought a packed and vociferous audience. A story in the November 29 Mosquito quoted scathing comments about poor methodology, omissions and inadequacies as evaluated by area selectmen, environmentalists, the HATS consultant, the superintendent of Minuteman National Park, state senator Susan Fargo and Lexington state representative Jay Kaufman. Walsh told the Mosquito that "Every question brought up at that meeting was answered in the final report," but Coppe and Pepper-Aisenberg have commented that, "The answers satisfied no one but the people who wrote the report," and after a few "tinkerings" it was certified by Robert Durand's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

The FedEx fight

Even with this history of conflict, casual onlookers still ask why the announcement from Massport that FedEx is seeking FAA approval to make one flight from Hanscom five nights a week before 11 p.m. has so galvanized the opposition. Given their distrust of Massport, the members of Shhair and SOH see this one Airbus flight a night as only "a toe in the door." Pepper-Aisenberg points out that once the FAA grants the FedEx request, the sky is literally the limit.The planes are huge · the size of a 739 · and once approved the number of FedEx flights can be expanded limitlessly, as can similar operations by other companies. ShhAir says it will require 28 eighteen-wheeler trucks to load and unload each plane. They also note that traffic on the Battle Road (Route 2A) is already heavy and growing. "How about 18-wheelers there?" Coppe asks. In addition, the opponents fear that such large planes and trucks could soon require considerable infrastructure growth (hangars, parking lots and fuel facilities.)

It should be noted, however, that the heads of ShhAir and SOH emphasize that their relations with the separate Hanscom Air Force Base have been and will remain cordial.

Endangered historical place

Anna Winter, executive director of Save Our Heritage, is joined by (left to right) actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr., recording artist and founder of the Walden Woods Project Don Henley, and naturalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson. All are members of Save Our Heritage's advisory board. (Courtesy photo)

In May ShhAir and SOH got a major boost in their effort to muster support nationwide when the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Minuteman Park and environs as "one of America's eleven most endangered historical places," citing increased corporate jet operations as a leading cause. The History Channel picked up on the story selecting the Hanscom controversy as its lead item in a presentation covering the 11 designees. In that brief segment, Anna Winter, executive director of SOH and Nancy Nelson, superintendent of Minuteman Park, asserted that commercial and corporate jet plane operations constitute a threat to historic and literary landmarks in the towns surrounding the field. These allegations were disputed by Massport head Craig P. Coy, who also refused to rule out expansion at Hanscom.

In a follow-up telephone call, Minuteman Park public affairs officer Melissa Saalfield echoed Nelson's concern about noise pollution, air quality and water pollution within the park where "millions of federal dollars have been spent to preserve the natural fauna and flora, particularly in Thoreau's 'Great Fields' that extend from Merriam's Corner in Concord to the Lincoln town line." This is an expanse where the park service has removed invasive plants and extended the acreage available for farm tillage.

Saalfield admitted, "We know there's a balance here. There's a legitimate need for commerce, but the park is here to honor our past, and it belongs to the American people as a whole. It was conceived as a commemorative park to honor those who gave their lives, and the noise of jet engines drowning out the rangers at the North Bridge and in Hartwell Tavern, or the need to dodge 18-wheelers on an increasingly crowded Battle Road, breaks the spell."

Going national

These are some of the issues that those concerned about future expansion at Hanscom hope to take to the regional and national level. Employing the same tactics used successfully in Northern Virginia, where a combination of grassroots activists, institutional opponents and a public groundswell convinced the Disney Corporation to cancel its plan for a theme park in the heart of the hallowed Civil War battlegrounds, ShhAir, SOH and their institutional supporters have launched a public relations blitz. The aim is to convince FedEx that its nationwide image and thus its bottom line could be adversely affected.

The campaign started rolling in early July with e-mail chain letters, post cards and other literature handed out at Fourth of July events and at national park locations. Both business and non-profit organizations, particularly in this area where tourist business is critical, are being cajoled into threatening cancellation of FedEx service. Sample letters for posting to the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, to FedEx or just to sympathetic friends around the country can be found on their website,

A follow-up article will cover the Massport charter, the way its officials see their role, some evidence pro and con for the threats raised by their critics, and the contents of a position paper, Hanscom at the Crossroads, signed by local and state officials, including the Carlisle Board of Selectmen. The two articles are also designed to throw some light on a growing national and even international debate concerning a proper balance between airline industry development and a local or global quality of life.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito