New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Elicker to critics: Tweed not going anywhere, so ‘tough luck’
NEW HAVEN — Mayor Justin Elicker and Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Executive Director Sean Scanlon may never get many of the 80 people they faced this week at Nathan Hale School on board with airport expansion — and they know it.
But it won’t be for lack of try
Elicker certainly got their attention when he offered some choice words Thursday night for the Morris Cove and East Haven residents who bought homes on both sides of an operating airport and just plain want Tweed New Haven Regional Airport gone.
“If you don’t support the airport, tough luck,” Elicker told them, eliciting a chorus of groans — and a gasp or two. “But listen to me explain,” he said. “The airport is here. We can’t just eliminate the airport. We just can’t do that.”
But “what I have heard is, you’re concerned,” he said.
Elicker later told residents at the informational meeting, several of whom said they voted for him in the last election and won’t do it again, that while he was elected, “I don’t do things for votes. I do them because they are the right thing to do.”
If people don’t like what he does as mayor, they needn’t vote for him, he said.
“I really believe in this deal — and I know there’s some skeptics in this room,” Elicker said.
He was referring to the deal the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee will consider at 6 p.m. Monday for a new 43-year lease and a long-term agreement with 22-year contract operator Avports LLC. Avports, a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, in turn would fund airport operations and improvements that eventually could total $100 million.
Those include an initial $70 million plan to extend Tweed’s existing 5,600-foot main runway by 1,035 feet, build a new, larger, carbon-neutral terminal on the East Haven side of the airport, and move the airport entrance to Proto Drive off Hemingway Avenue in East Haven.
But “there’s not a full understanding about what this deal covers and what it doesn’t cover” and “this is an opportunity for us to answer those questions,” he said.
“I think this is a good thing not only for New Haven but for the East Shore — and by the way, for East Haven,” Elicker said.
Scanlon, who was on the firing line for much of the 90-minute public questionand-answer portion of the meeting, repeatedly told people that he will go out of his way to meet with them and answer their questions — and will come to their house if they want to discuss airport issues.
“I knock on doors and people are surprised to see me there — and I tell them, “you have time to engage on this,” he said.
As he has several times in the past, Scanlon gave out his cellphone number — 203-800-6331 — and urged anyone with questions to call him.
Elicker followed up by giving his cellphone number: 203-500-2969.
The City Plan Commission on Wednesday approved a related set of improvements at Tweed.
They include a special permit and site plan for a $5 million project to renovate the existing terminal and the airport administration building on the New Haven side of the airport into departure and arrival terminals, bring in two modular trailers and add 271 parking spaces on what used to be the airport’s second runway to accommodate Avelo Airlines.
Scanlon explained the $5 million community benefits package that would be part of the expansion deal, which would include $1.5 million for noise mitigation — in addition to $1.8 million, largely of federal funds, that already has been spent — another $1.5 million for traffic mitigation, $1.75 million for beautification and $275,000 to address general aviation issues.
Those in attendance offered plenty of questions — as well as plenty of comments.
East Haven resident David Gersz of Forbes Place, a Republican running for Town Council in the 1st District, wanted to know, “How is Tweed going to handle 900,000 people a year?” He also wanted to know how Hemingway Avenue in East Haven might handle additional traffic. “I don’t see how it can work,” Gersz said. “I don’t have an answer for you — because I don’t want to make it up,” said Scanlon.
Gabriela Campos Matteson said New Haven City Plan Commission members “were not happy about approving it” and had lots of questions.
“A former alderman said that (Tweed) was an albatross for the city,” she said, referring to former Alder Carl Goldfield, now a member of the City Plan Commission.
“I haven’t had one neighbor tell me that this was a good idea for the city,” she said.
East Havener Jean Edwards Chieppo raised questions about wildlife that could be killed or displaced by airport expansion.
“Wildlife are important to human life,” she said.
Chieppo also said she was told by “someone I will not name that this airport is intended for cargo.”
That prompted Scanlon to respond, “Let me be clear: There is no plan to do freight at this airport. There is no plan to do freight.”
He added that “if this plan is going to kill 10,000 hawks, then DEEP ... will not allow us to do that.”
The one neighbor who spoke in favor of Tweed expansion, Townsend Avenue resident Robert LoRicco, said his family has lived in Morris Cove since the 1930s and “I support you.”
But, “You have a battle,” he said. “I support you and I think it’s only good for the city — for Yale, to bring money into the town. I think it’ll bring income.”
One man, who said he lives five houses from the airport, said “nobody’s ever knocked on my door” to see what he thinks.
“I’m afraid my property value is going to go down,” he said.
Paul Campion of Morris Cove Road said he supported Elicker in the last election, but questioned how the city and the airport can ask alders to vote in favor of a 43-year lease at Tweed without answering many of the questions that have been asked.
“I think you need to take the time and represent the answers to the questions that are coming your way,” he said. “... New Haven has a responsibility to people, not airplanes.”
Scanlon said “the deal is between the city and the authority. The authority will continue to exist . ... That oversight will continue to exist. Avports will still have to come to the board in order to do things.”
The airport will have to continue to comply with the city’s noise ordinance, “and we will,” Scanlon said.
He also addressed questions about possible future use of eminent domain, saying, “Let me be clear: There is no plan to use eminent domain here . ... That language has been in our lease since 1998 and I can tell you we’ve never used it.”
Elicker pointed out that the airport authority does not have authority to use eminent domain.
He said later in response to another question that any improvements at the airport would remain within its existing boundaries.