The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 12, 2003


Massport, citizen groups disagree on role of Hanscom

The bright yellow "No FedEx at Hanscom" signs that sprouted area-wide in late June announced the start of a locally inspired campaign with both short and long-range objectives. The immediate aim, as described in the August 15 issue of the Mosquito, is to convince the Federal Express Company that it will be making a serious error if it initiates major cargo flights out of Hanscom Air Field in Bedford.

The preservationist activists

Behind the ambitious stop-gap action is a regional and ultimately nationwide drive to line up sufficient political, institutional and preservationist support for local community activists opposed to any substantial enlargement or change of use at New England's second busiest airport. The two prime movers in this ambitious effort, ShhAir (Safeguarding Historic Hanscom Area's Irreplaceable Resources) and SOH (Save Our Heritage), are backed locally by a duo of concerned federal entities, Minuteman National Historic Park and Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Why do these organizations feel the need to take their case to the nation when there are already two groups, Hanscom Area Towns Subcommittee (HATS) and Hanscom Field Advisory Committee (HFAC), that represent towns and other regional stakeholders in an official capacity before the state agency that owns and operates the field, namely, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport)? The answer lies, in part, in the unique status enjoyed by that authority.

Unique status of Massport

A blimp touches down at Hanscom Field in Bedford. (Photo by Mike Quayle)
Massport was created by the state legislature in 1956 as a quasi-public agency to manage the Port of Boston, Logan International Airport and the Tobin Bridge. Hanscom was added to their charter in 1959 when the U.S. Air Force turned over its surplus wartime facilities to the state, retaining Hanscom Air Base as mainly a research facility. Like other quasi-public agencies here and in other states, Massport was established as essentially above the day-to-day and year-to-year vagaries of the political process, to free it to do long-term planning, make tough decisions and take speedy action if needed, much like a private corporation. It is exempt from civil service regulations, has the power of eminent domain, issues bonds, establishes rules and regulations, charges user fees and exercises police powers.

However, unlike similar bodies here and in other states, it is not subject to any state regulatory processes including the newly created Office of Commonwealth Development that has subsumed the departments of Environmental Affairs, Transportation and Construction, and Community Development as headed by the governor's appointee Douglas Foy, and finally by implication, considers itself exempt from all zoning, health and environmental bylaws and regulations promulgated by local governments.

The governor of the Common-wealth appoints members to the Massport Board, but that is the limit of even his legal control. The only requirements for board appointees are that one member must represent labor unions, while no more than four of the seven can come from one political party. The original Massport charter as stated in its enabling statute declared that its considerable powers must be "in all respects for the benefit of the people of the Commonwealth, for the increase of their commerce and prosperity and for the improvement of their health and living conditions."

The Hanscom Field Master Plan and Environmental Impact Statement issued in 1978 recognized the importance of open space and environmental health to the neighboring communities as well as the importance of their historic resources, especially Minuteman National Historic Park, 50 acres of which lie within Hanscom's 1,500-acre domain.

This summer Hanscom Air Base held a tour of Navy F14s for Boston Children's Hospital patients and their families. Military operations represent only 1% of current air traffic at Hanscom Field. (Photo by Betsy Fell)

Yesterday: general aviation

During the period between 1978 and 1990 when People Against Hanscom Expansion mounted a successful legal challenge, forcing Continental Express to withdraw a proposal to start up passenger airline service from Hanscom to Newark, relations between Massport and the local communities remained relatively tranquil. Following that skirmish and under former Congressman Peter Blute's tenure as director, Massport appeared ready to agree that Hanscom would remain a general aviation facility (not to include commuter operations, certificated passenger service or heavy cargo) and would undertake only that infrastructure development necessary to support general usage. However, there is a perception among opponents of change of use that, with the arrival of Virginia Buckingham as director and continuing under current director Craig P. Coy, the Board has swung toward active encouragement of increased commercial and commuter jet business.

The accuracy of the perception gained weight when Coy appeared on the History Channel's May 2003 interview with SOH director Anna Winter and Minuteman National Historical Park superintendent Nancy Nelson. The brief segment explored the National Trust for Historic Preservation's designation of the Park as "one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historical Places," citing increased corporate jet operations as a leading cause. In a brief assertion of what he believed to be Hanscom's role under Massport management, the director defined it as "helping business and industry to keep the area strong economically." Asked directly about airport growth in the future, he said none was planned right now, but refused to rule out expansion in the future.

Tomorrow: reliever airport?

Seeking to confirm and expand on Coy's vision, the Mosquito questioned Massport's public relations director Richard Walsh in two long telephone interviews. Asked how he would define "general aviation," he thought for a moment and replied, "That's hard, but I guess as everything other than large ticketed passenger planes and the military." He said that, in his view, " Hanscom is an economic item" dedicated to assisting business and industry and helping to attract both small and large corporate business to this area. He stressed the field's role as a "reliever airport" for Logan, one that accommodates both commercial and corporate jets as well as private aircraft. He pointed out that convenient transportation is important to companies looking to locate branches or corporate headquarters in an area, adding with obvious pride, "Hanscom plays that role like no other in New England."

Reminded that opponents of airport development are concerned that the rapidly growing fleet of corporate and also private jet aircraft, plus introduction of FedEx's heavy cargo Airbuses would bring mounting pressure for infrastructure expansion, i.e. hangars, parking spaces, fuel storage facilities and even restaurants and shops, he was totally up front. "If we see ourselves as a major reliever airport, we will need to offer amenities like that. If we limit what we offer our customers, we will not be meeting our agenda. It just wouldn't be in our interest. And don't forget, if these businesses come, they will bring in jobs and pay taxes to the towns in the area."

Scenarios for 2015

Steve Lerner is Carlisle's representative to the Hanscom Field Advisory Committee (HFAC). Asked why he offered to take on this role, he said, "As a frequent business traveler I felt HFAC provided an appropriate venue to balance responsible air travel with conser-vationist practices of the community. I believe the effects of noise will be one of the up and coming environ-mental causes nationwide."
In an attempt to anticipate what kind of growth might be anticipated between now and the year 2015, Carlisle's HFAC representative Steve Lerner took the following figures from tables and "scenarios" in Massport's own Environmental Status and Planning Report (ESPR).

· Cargo (FedEx, etc.) Six daily cargo operations including arrivals at 5:45 and 6:30 a.m.

· 55,000 annual jet operations, up from 31,000 in 2002 and from 9,600 in 1995. [Lerner's comment: This is an unreasonably low projection, since if jet operations were to increase at only half the 1995-2000 rate, there would be 87,000 by 2015.]

· 84 daily (26,000 annually) commercial operations carrying 660,000 passengers a year including a large number of 50-seat regional jets.

· The number of people living between 55 and 65db DNL contours (annual average noise)will double to 4767. [Lerner's comment: This is a deceptive method of measuring decibels, since people experience noise levels in single events, where the levels are often considerably higher (100 dbs and higher).]

· 760 new parking spaces at the Civil Air Terminal or more than double the present capacity.

· Hanscom-related traffic to increase from the present four percent to 15 percent of peak volume on the Battle Road (Route 2A), resulting in three intersection failures due to Hanscom-related traffic. [Lerner's comment: To mitigate these failures Massport suggests three rotaries, one roundabout and lane additions along Routes 2A and 62 and admits these proposals may not be consistent with the character of the roadways and could require residential property takings.]

Asked about these environmental report's projections and implications, Walsh said the ESPR should not be looked upon as representing Massport planning, but rather as giving an historical perspective from 1995 to 2000 and then concentrating on "realistic scenarios based on realistic figures" as seen by Massport's various internal departments and hired consultants.

In view of Massport's own admission that jet planes account for 80 percent of the noise caused by Hanscom-based planes, both the Mosquito and Lerner have inquired as to whether Massport has ever considered putting a cap on the number of jet operations at Hanscom. The consistent reply is that there is no way Hanscom can refuse to accept any flights approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As one employee told Lerner, "We can no more limit the number of planes using the field, than you can limit the number of cars using a highway."

Can't limit air traffic

It is also true that under the Airport Noise and Abatement Act of 1990, an airport cannot change its noise abatement rules without the permission of the FAA, which does not consider abatement or mitigation funding until the "annual" decibel level rises to 65 db or higher. Mitigation is interpreted as demolition or sound-proofing of homes, but not reduction of aircraft operations. To those seeking to limit either numbers or noise levels at a local airport, it appears the only recourse may be for the owner (in this case Massport) to refuse to build the infrastructure to serve them.

Finally, Walsh was reminded of the many recent studies worldwide that have shown a substantially higher percentage of upper respiratory diseases such as asthma and pneumonia in communities near major airports as well as groundwater degradation from the many solvents, fuels and especially de-icing fluids in regular use. Asked if Hanscom's neighbors didn't have reason to be concerned, Walsh again referred to the ESPR as basically covering those concerns. He added that the monthly meetings with HFAC provided a forum for discussion of specific issues. He said that just recently Massport had reported that it was proposing to initiate the use of glycol de-icing fluid on the runways next winter, and that Bedford's representative had reported this back to his constituents. The town's conservation commission expressed concerns and made recommendations which are being considered by Massport authorities. However, no final outcome was yet reportable.

Little local influence

A major complaint of those stake-holders who deal with Massport on a regular basis, is that though the agency may listen, they seldom change course as a result. Superintendent of the Minuteman Park Nancy Nelson has commented that Hanscom authorities have been keeping the Park better informed recently. However, when asked if she felt that their expressed concerns got serious consideration, the answer was an almost explosive, "No! - we got better acknowledgment of environmental impacts back in 1988, but recently one Board member referred to the Park as only a pawn in the hands of the local groups with their NIMBYism."

Nelson's frustrations were reminiscent of a comment by State Senator Susan Fargo that because Massport is rife with political appointees holding patronage jobs, "There is an institutional climate where they feel they don't have to listen to the public." She said that when "the people's representatives" talk about a level playing field for the towns and the rights of local citizens, "Coy just doesn't understand, and our efforts to get a representative of community outlooks on the Massport Board have been ignored."

Between 1990 and the present, ten area boards of selectmen, including Carlisle's, have signed a policy statement, Hanscom Field at the Crossroads, which, in general, supports the stands taken by HFAC, HATS and the grassroots organizations and ends with a clarion call for "an immediate moratorium on any additional passenger aviation, including commercial, corporate and jet timesharing, and any infrastructure improvementsuntil a regionally driven, multi-state, multi-modular transportation plan is in place." Carlisle Selectman Vivian Chaput told the Mosquito that the local board emphasized that such planning should take account of all the New England regional airports, high-speed rail and highway planning.

Hanscom Field at the Crossroads has received the endorsement of U.S. Representatives Martin Meehan, Edward Markey and John Tierney, State Senators Fargo, Robert Havern and Pam Resor and five state representatives including this district's Cory Atkins.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito