Bedford Town Meeting to air participation in FAA suit
Bedford has scheduled a special Town Meeting on Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. in response to a citizens group that is challenging the selectmen's 5-0 decision not to join neighboring towns in court action appealing Federal Aviation Administration approval of air service between Hanscom Field and LaGuardia Airport in New York
Northwest Weekly asked Mark Siegenthaler, selectman chair, and Lori Eggert, a Bedford resident and member of a citizens group called ShhAir who helped petition for the Town Meeting, to present their opposing views.
The appeal was filed in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston by the activist groups Save Our Heritage and ShhAir, joined by the towns of Lincoln, Lexington and Concord, and other parties. The appeal claims the FAA did not fully consider the effect on the area's historic sites when it approved additional flights daily from Hanscom Field to LaGuardia Airport.
Input of Residents Is Imperative
by Lori Eggert
On Jan. 22, Bedford residents will come together for a special Town Meeting to consider joining our sister towns in an appeal of a recent FAA action.
In November, the FAA approved Shuttle America flights to LaGuardia, greatly increasing commercial flights at Hanscom. In doing so, however, the FAA did not complete the federally required review (Section 106) of adverse impacts on historic properties. Bedford and the other towns, all having official standing under the law, were never consulted.
Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Save Our Heritage, and ShhAir immediately appealed the decision. Bedford selectmen so far have declined to join. Head selectman Mark Siegenthaler said his board's unanimous decision is based on the hope that by staying out of court, better conversation with Massport will be facilitated.
While this approach of friendlier discussion with Massport has some merit, we maintain that productive conversations with Massport and an appeal of an FAA decision are not linked and that negotiation without leverage of any kind is risky and unwise. Here are five reasons why we should join the appeal.
1. Bedford must have input into decisions that intimately affect our town. Commercial flights at Hanscom increase the noise, pollution, and road traffic in our town. Without input from the affected parties, responsible decision making is impossible.
The FAA appeal defends our right to participate in a process before a federal agency that initiates projects that intimately affect our town. We aren't asking for veto rights, only for our concerns to be heard. We weren't given that chance.
2. The FAA violated the law. The FAA failed to hold a public review of how increased commercial passenger operations will affect historic sites and the quality of life in our area. The FAA's decision allowing Shuttle America to ramp up operations flies in the face of federal regulations established by the National Historic Preservation Act, the Massachusetts Historical Commission's legal role to review cumulative impacts, the National Park Service AND Bedford's legal right to have a role as a concerned party in the historical impact review process.
The Bedford selectmen have argued that this appeal will not prevail. We reject that position as a valid reason to opt out. The FAA has to be put on notice now that we care about this historic area and will always insist on due process.
3. No money is involved. Bedford can join the appeal as a co-petitioner with Lexington, Concord and Lincoln at negligible expense. The preservation groups Save Our Heritage and ShhAir are footing all legal fees and expenses. The selectmen need only send two two-sentence letters on Bedford town letterhead to Save Our Heritage and its attorney.
4. Negotiation with Massport has a very poor track record. We've been told by the selectmen that if Bedford joins the appeal of the FAA decision, conversations with Massport will be shut down. If this is true, it is only because Massport wants to shut Bedford down. The appeal is against the FAA decision, not against Massport. Massport shouldn't oppose Bedford's right to be heard.
Our selectmen are bypassing the intent of federal law for cases such as ours because they think that in being more accommodating to Massport, they will somehow win special relief. There is no evidence for this.
Massport is actively seeking to expand commercial traffic at Hanscom because it wants to build a new runway at Logan. There is an injunction against building the proposed runway until air traffic regionalization can be demonstrated. Commercializing Hanscom is a key element of Massport strategy.
Massport has not dealt honestly in the past. One glaring example is that Massport never notified HFAC or HATS of its decision to seek the FAA certification necessary to begin commercial aviation at Hanscom. Massport held no public hearings on Shuttle America's proposed service and only notified HFAC and HATS at the last minute. This is the basis of the towns' ongoing lawsuit against Massport.
The 1979 Hanscom Field Master Plan promises no commercial aircraft bigger than 30 seats. Peter Blute, the former executive director of Massport, held a public meeting on cable TV in 1997 and promised that Hanscom would remain a general aviation airport. These promises and many more have been broken.
Recently we learned Massport has withheld information about plans for a runway safety zone extension involving bulldozing Virginia Road in Concord. Massport doesn't tell us about the toxic additives in deicing compounds.
5. Bedford's absence on the appeal sends a harmful message to friend and foe alike. Citizens and elected officials from all four towns have worked hard over these many years and months to keep the noise and traffic of New England's second busiest airport within tolerable limits.
The rest of the world must wonder: How bad can air and land traffic be at Hanscom if the very town where the airfield lies will not go on record protesting the FAA decision to open up the runways there?
Little to Show for Legal Actions
by Mark Siegenthaler
For many years, the four towns surrounding Hanscom Field have pursued strategies to ensure that their interests were part of the decision-making by Massport regarding Hanscom Field.
We work together at Hanscom Field Advisory Commission (HFAC) and Hanscom Area Towns (HATS) meetings. We plan together through a four-town planning group, environmental and noise subcommittees, and a recently adopted multitown project review process. Sometimes, we consult together in four-town executive sessions of our selectmen.
These actions and collaborations continue today and continue to result in our voices being heard.
Relatively recently, in response to the original actions by Massport that allowed the return of commuter operations to Hanscom, the communities added legal action to the list of approaches in an attempt to challenge and curtail commuter flights. For some, these lawsuits were based on principle -- Hanscom is seen as a poor location for commuter activity. For others, the unknown nature of how many flights and how often they would occur raised fears of activities that had no limits or controls. Late last year, after a Federal Aviation Administration decision to allow additional commuter flights to New York, an appeal of the FAA's decision was filed in federal court.
Throughout this period of legal action, the relationship between the communities and Massport has become more contentious and strained. Massport has expressed serveral times their concern that discussions with the communities must be limited due to the pending legal actions. Now, within the past few weeks, the FAA declined to answer questions regarding a particular carrier due to the current appeal.
So far, the communities have little to show for the legal actions taken; several decisions have come down against the communities. Some would argue, in fact, that the lawsuits have cemented the image of the four towns as uncaring, uncooperative members of the larger region.
The Bedford selectmen are very concerned that the path of legal appeals is ineffective and is destructive to the working relationship necessary between the towns, Massport and the FAA. We share a responsibility for negotiating in good faith, constructive solutions to the issues we face on behalf of all our citizens and interests.
In the time since others have joined the appeal of the FAA decision, Bedford has:
- Met directly with Massport to make our fundamental concerns clear and to reinforce our desire to work constructively on the issues.
- Strongly expressed our desire for limits on commuter activity.
- Written to the FAA expressing concern that their approval of additional flights did not consider the broader context of increases in all Hanscom activities and the cumulative impacts on the four towns, and
- Pressed forward to identify subjects on which the towns and Massport can agree.
In the past two months, Bedford has urged, and HFAC has stepped forward to advise Massport of its support for, parking improvements and hangar construction projects that will provide better definition of the facilities at Hanscom, improve the climate for general aviation, and, arguably, reduce the potential for commuter expansion. We must stay focused on the fact that the existing physical limitations of Hanscom Field are the key to achieving the towns' goals.
Some have said that Massport must negotiate with us whether we are involved in lawsuits and appeals or not. It takes two parties to agree to negotiate, and Massport has made it clear that they are constrained by the legal actions.
If we are serious about having constructive dialogue with Massport, if we are serious about identifying limits and working to make Hanscom operate at its best within these limits, if we are serious about being responsible members of the metropolitan area, then we must keep the discussions out of the courtrooms and in the committee rooms. Let HFAC and HATS do their work to represent our views and collectively identify solutions.
The Bedford selectmen are committed to pursuing a future for Hanscom Field that maintains its use primarily as a general aviatoin facility. Opposing all commuter activity, and going to court and filing appeals to achieve this, however, has drawn a line in the sand too soon. There may be another time and place when legal action is our only recourse. We believe that now is not the time.
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