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January 17, 2020

Lawmakers to Tweed: Where’s the plan, Stan?

PHOTO | New Haven BIZ Last spring American began flying 76-seat Embraer jets from Tweed to Philadelphia International.

It was not a great week for Tweed New Haven Airport boosters.

The East Shore flyway’s sole commercial carrier — American Airlines — this month pared round-trip service to its principal destination — Philadelphia — from three flights daily to two on most days, and to just one on others. (American also operates one weekly flight to Charlotte, N.C.)

The airline says the service cutback is seasonal (January to April is the slowest season for air travel in the U.S.) and it expects to restore the three daily Philadelphia flights in March. But the reduction conflicts with Tweed boosters’ assertion that the southern Connecticut market is ripe for enhanced commercial air service to more destinations, such as Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

Last July a federal appeals court effectively overturned the state’s prohibition on expanding Tweed’s runway from its current 5,600 feet to 6,000 feet. That ruling seemed to pave the way (literally and figuratively) for lengthening the runway to accommodate larger jets used by most commercial carriers. But in early December state Attorney General William Tong announced that he would appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce has made Tweed expansion its top legislative priority for 2020.

On Thursday morning the GNHCC held a “Regional Legislative Agenda 2020” breakfast event at Southern Connecticut State University. During the session chamber President Garrett Sheehan asked the ranking members of the upper legislative chamber from both sides of the aisle — State Sen. Martin M. Looney (D-11) and State Sen. Leonard A. Fasano (R-34) — what it would take to enlist their active support for Tweed expansion.

Both lawmakers represent constituents who live near the airport, which straddles the New Haven/East Haven line, a vocal contingent of whom for years have actively opposed lengthening Tweed’s runways to allow larger jets to use the facility and thus pave the way for more carriers to service HVN. Neighbors’ concerns center principally on noise, traffic and safety.

According to Looney, last February he, Fasano and State Rep. Alphonse Paolillo (D-97) of the East Shore met with newly inaugurated Gov. Ned Lamont to discuss the future of Tweed. “[Lamont] said he felt Tweed development was very important for southern Connecticut, but at the same time he said the city of New Haven had not adequately pursued and developed a comprehensive plan” to make sure the neighborhoods near Tweed “would not bear an unfair brunt” of noise, traffic and congestion that would negatively impact property values.

According to Looney, Lamont promised to respond with a draft plan for Tweed that addressed neighborhood concerns by the close of the spring 2019 legislative session.

That draft was never delivered. According to Looney, “Instead of the plan, we heard that the economic-development [arm] of the state was going to undertake a study [regarding] whether Tweed or Sikorsky [Airport in Stratford] would be the best option for a new airport in the southern part of the state.”

“Senator Looney and I are on the same page” with regard to Tweed (if little else), said Fasano. “We have never seen a plan” to address community concerns over proposed lengthening of Tweed’s main runway. “So to tell you we’re against something we’ve never seen is not fair.”

“What we’re saying is, What is the plan that you want to do, how big are we going to make [the airport], what is the number of airlines you’re thinking of?” added Fasano. Also, “What are the community benefits you’re going to give to our residents who bear the burden of the airport? That’s really been the issue.”

Bully pulpit

“There’s been this feeling [among Tweed supporters] that we can bully our way through the legislature, and the heck with the people who live around the airport on the New Haven and East Haven sides,” Fasano said, “that ‘We’re going to get it done — so get the heck out of our way.’ Well, that isn’t the way it works.”

Sean Scanlon, a Democratic state representative from Guilford who doubles as Tweed’s executive director, said, “We are actively having conversations, and the airport fully recognizes the importance of that dialogue.

"We are currently going through a master-plan process to determine what [runway expansion] looks like, with heavy community involvement," Scanlon said.

Regarding Fasano’s comment he added, “I don’t know what he means by ‘haven’t seen a plan’ because our plan has always been the same — to expand the runway.”

But that runway expansion remains in legal limbo — for now.

Later during the same Thursday morning conversation with the New Haven chamber, Looney raised another specter: that Bradley Airport officials were actively (if quietly) campaigning against expanding Tweed.

“The [Connecticut] Airport Authority at Bradley seems lukewarm to Tweed development,” he said. Adding passenger service from Tweed to new destinations such as, for example, Washington, D.C. “would be in competition with [Bradley], and that’s not something [they] think would be beneficial,” said Looney. He added that Connecticut Airport Authority officials likely favor the Sikorsky alternative to Tweed for the simple reason that Stratford is farther from Bradley than New Haven.

Chamber President Sheehan was sanguine about Thursday's Tweed dialogue.

“What I heard was an acknowledgement that having an expanded airport is important to the business community and it’s something that [Looney and Fasano] could support under the right conditions," Sheehan said afterward. "That’s a dialogue that we want to have, and I look forward to our local legislators being leaders in that process.”



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