Bedford Minuteman
Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Protesters picket in front of Liberty Mutual office

By Barbara Forster/ Correspondent

Liberty Mutual offices on Bedford Street in Lexington were targeted by picketers late Wednesday afternoon, June 30.

About a dozen Hanscom area residents protested the company's decision to build a new corporate hangar for jet planes at Hanscom Field.

"Liberty Mutual has shown that they intend to ignore the public's concern, so we have to go to them," said Marty Pepper Aisenberg of Save Our Heritage. "It's also important for us to have a consistent message that the growth of corporate jet traffic is a terrific problem. It is responsible for the bulk of (aviation) noise and that needs to be addressed."

In a written statement, however, Liberty Mutual maintained they "are available to address any legitimate issues" about the project. "We take our responsibility as a corporate citizen very seriously."

Opponents argue that corporate jet traffic at Hanscom has more than tripled since 1995 and Liberty Mutual specifically contributed to such growth by doubling its fleet in the late 1990s. Moreover, once the new hangar is built, Massport will be able to lease Liberty's old facility thereby increasing the amount of jet traffic even more.

Richard Walsh of Massport acknowledges that the agency's goal is to eventually reuse the old Liberty hangar.

"We have no worries that we won't lease it," he said. "There is a pretty consistent stream of phone calls (about hangar space)."

"It's hypocritical for Liberty Mutual to have jets at Hanscom while they sponsor TV spots promoting tourism at Minute Man Park that shows the park as pristine, with birds singing in the trees and not a plane in sight," added Pepper-Aisenberg.

Area activists from Save Our Heritage and Safeguarding the Historic Hanscom Area's Irreplaceable Resources sponsored the demonstration.

Currently in a 20,000-square-foot hangar, Liberty Mutual is redeveloping Hangar One, creating 36,000 square feet that will include office, storage, and maintenance space in addition to the company's four 12-seat planes.

Except for the change of location and facility size, everything else including staff size which is about 28 remains the same. According to Project Manager William Costa, Liberty Mutual has "no intention to increase" the number of aircraft or trips.

"Over the last few years, the number of trips has been level; on average less than one per day," he added.

The company also reissued an offer to meet with Save Our Heritage reps to discuss the hangar project. HFAC recently asked Liberty Mutual to attend another meeting to further discuss the project. Liberty Mutual reps were at two meetings, one in November 2003 and another this January, but only the contractor was on hand for the June meeting.

In a prepared statement, the company said, "After the January meeting, our representatives addressed in writing all the community concerns that were raised. Because the purpose of the June meeting was to discuss design plans, we felt it was appropriate to send the lead members of the contractor team to present the plans to HFAC as the contractors were best suited to answer design questions."

The commission disagreed.

"We're sending a message to Massport that the communities won't sit still for this kind of development," said Pepper Aisenberg. "More jets means more harm to Walden and Minute Man Park."

Lexington's Peter Enrich, who chairs the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission, agreed.

"With Shuttle America, it (picketing) was quite significant in that there were people who flew [with the airline] until they realized there was a problem," he said. "It is much less likely that this (picketing) will influence Liberty Mutual, but it does put up a warning flag to other businesses considering this kind of expansion that they are being watched by the communities."

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