Sunday, January 05, 2003
Residents, Massport battle over future of Hanscom
By Jason Lefferts, Sun Staff
CONCORD -- Standing on North Bridge on a clear, cold morning, it almost
feels like it's 1775 again.
The woods are unspoiled, and the hills American revolutionary forces crossed
to beat back the British are undeveloped.
From the bridge, through the trees, the home where Ralph Waldo Emerson's
grandfather lived is in sight. When the distant traffic is quiet, the area
reaches back to the beginning of America.
Regularly, however, the quiet is shaken by a plane flying overhead.
Sometimes it's a small, flight-school plane, but increasingly it's a
high-powered corporate jet, shooting in and out of nearby Hanscom Field.
"Here you have a historical site that looks like the way it did in
says Marty Pepper Aisenberg, the project director for Save Our Heritage, an
activist group protesting Hanscom growth. "You're entering into an
expression of what happened. There's a value for people to enter the
experience of history, and there are so few places left. When you come here
for the weekend, that's when you're getting buried with overflights."
Situated in one of the state's wealthiest and most historic areas, Hanscom's
present and future have become a flash point. With about 230,000 takeoffs
and landings a year, it is the second-busiest airport in New England, and in
recent years its corporate jet business has grown quickly.
Neighborhood activist groups complain vehemently about noise from overhead
planes and road traffic, and have mobilized the help of powerful politicians
and Hollywood celebrities to stop growth at Hanscom.
But while neighbors complain, others question the impact the airfield
actually has on the nearby Minuteman National ! Historical Park and other
colonial-period sites. They point out that the total number of incoming and
outgoing flights at the airport is less than it was 30 years ago, when it
was used more as a military and flight training facility. And
Hanscom-related vehicle traffic on Route 2A which makes up the backbone of
the national park and is the main road to the airport accounts for less than
5 percent of the cars on the road.
Massport, the state agency that runs Hanscom, says the airfield has a
critical role to play in the region's air transportation system, and that
providing more services, especially for corporate jets, is a goal at the
field. But Massport and its consultants say that the airport and its air and
ground traffic are not the threat to historical sites that critics say they
"This is a modern society. Everyone has to bear a share of the burden to
reap the benefits of living in Massachusetts," says Richard Walsh, Massport's community liaison at Hanscom.
Walsh points to the hundreds of daily commercial flights out of Logan
International Airport in Boston, where planes fly low over some of most
historically significant sites in the country. "It doesn't stop millions of
people from enjoying the Freedom Trail and the Boston Harbor Islands," he
said. [see rebuttal below]
Granted, the towns around Hanscom are not downtown Boston, where historical
sites are squeezed between contemporary development and city traffic.
Revolutionary War areas near Hanscom are often hidden from the street,
surrounded by forest and a few isolated homes.
Hanscom Field was opened by the military in the 1940s, and has been a
mixed-use airport for decades. In the 1970s and during the height of the
Vietnam War, more than 300,000 planes took off or landed each year.
Overall use was down to about 230,000 in 2002, yet the battle between the
airport and its surroundings has intensified.
Hanscom is situated mostly in Bedford, but takes up slivers of Lincoln,
Lexington and Concord. They are towns laced not only with history but with
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 68,000 people live in the four towns,
where the median household income is $93,000 far ahead of the state average
of about $54,000. The average home in the four towns, according to the state
Department of Revenue, is valued at $540,000.
Hanscom's issues have been seen elsewhere: Smaller airports in upper-class
areas such as Santa Monica, Calif., and Westchester, N.Y., are facing
similar criticism from neighbors. Paul Shuldiner, the director of the
University of Massachusetts Transportation Center and a civil and
environmental engineering professor, says airport development often faces
challenges in suburban areas.
"I think most of us don't like change. You take Hanscom, for example,
it's in a very nice set of communities. People live there because it is
rather bucolic, and their way of life they've chosen is put under stress,"
Shuldiner says. "I think it's a very natural resistance, and it's part of
the ever-present question of what is the 'community good' and how does the
larger community relate."
For someone like Molly Martin, the airport and her neighborhood do not
relate well at all. Martin lives on Eaton Road in Lexington, less than two
miles from the tip of Hanscom's main runway. The afternoon traffic on Route
128 can be heard from her living room, but she is more concerned about the
Martin is a member of an activist group called Safeguarding the Historic
Hanscom Area's Irreplaceable Resources (SHHAIR). The group would like to see
Hanscom used less, and some members would like to see outright closure.
Members are embarrassed to admit that some of their neighbors are attracted
to the convenience and take commercial flights out of the airport. They find
some uses like a Boston College booster charter to road football games
extreme and unnecessary.
"It seems wrong, just because they don't have another place for all this
traffic that they should just have it here," says Martin. "It shouldn't be
in anybody's back yard. I don't think the airport is in the right place at
the right time."
Martin and others complain that Massport is an untouchable organization that
doesn't listen to neighbors, that it plows ahead with an uninformed plan for
Hanscom. They believe high-speed rail should be the preferred mode of
travel, not airplanes.
Massport, however, says it has a vision of how Hanscom will grow, and how it
fits into the transportation scheme for the entire region.
According to Massport, about one-third of all takeoffs and landings at
Hanscom are attributed to flight schools, where students in small planes
take off, touch down, and take off again. Those numbers, around 75,000, have
stayed steady in recent years. At the same time, the number of jet
operations has taken off.
Since 1995, jet operations have increased 322 percent, from 9,592 to a
projected 30,928 in 2002, fitting into Massport's plan for the airport.
Massport's overall regional goal is to thin the congested skies over Logan,
one of the nation's busiest airports. To do so, they've thrown Hanscom and
airports in Worcester, Providence and Manchester, N.H., into the mix.
T.F. Green Airport in Providence and Manchester Airport have taken on much
of the commercial burden, ferrying millions of passengers each year.
Worcester Airport has struggled to make an impact, cursed by poor weather
and a lack of highway access.
Hanscom's goal has been to divert corporate traffic from Logan. With its
access to the highway, a runway viable for jet service, and proximity to big
business and the city, Hanscom is considered a vital home for corporate jet
"Hanscom is a designated reliever airport. It's supported by the federal
government to provide relief for corporate and general aviation activity,
and thus keeps them out of Logan for the most part," says William Hoffman,
the president of Flight Transportation Associates, a Cambridge-based
consultant firm that has done work for Massport. "Hanscom is really almost
ideally located to serve part of the Boston suburban area and southern New
As Massport has lobbied for more corporate jet operations at Hanscom, the
airport's services have expanded.
In June, Signature Air, an international flight-support company, opened a
corporate jet maintenance service there. The company provides cleaning,
refueling and other services to corporate and private jets.
Three weeks ago, Signature officials were part of a meeting with other
companies and private pilots who use Hanscom. Air! port users realize Hanscom
critics have a strong, unified voice, and want to be sure their views are
"This is a great airport to work with. General aviation and corporate
aviation and business aviation are doing well at the airport," says Larry
Jorash, the general manager of Signature's Bedford office.
If history is any indication, the future expansion of corporate business or
other air traffic at Hanscom will come only after a protracted legal battle.
In the last decade, the relationship between Massport and activists has
soured. Anna Winter, the executive director of Save Our Heritage, and Walsh,
the Massport community liaison, admit there is tension.
"It's really difficult to say we've got great relationships with these
people when we're seemingly always at odds on issues," Walsh says. "All
Massport does out here is, we own and operate an airport. We don't sit in
our offices and think up ways to upset the residents of Lexington."
Already upset about current conditions at the airport, neighbors and
watchdog groups are anxious about its future. In environmental impact
studies, Massport has mentioned increased cargo activity at Hanscom as an
option, although there are no specific plans.
More importantly to activists are Massport's discussions about expanding
Route 2A with turn lanes, and perhaps installing signal lights in
historically sensitive areas such as Merriam's Corner in Concord. They are
concerned historical areas will not only be encroached upon, but altered.
As with cargo activity, there are no concrete plans to move ahead with the
work on Route 2A. Nonetheless, Save Our Heritage is planning to fight
Massport at every turn, and is trying to create federal limits to the number
of flights at Hanscom. A video is being created, with help from a long list
of stars such as rocker Don Henley, actor Christopher Reeve, and historian
Ken Burns. The video will be delivered to Congress early this year.
"The power of development is so strong, and the citizens are so
now with daily life, that it's difficult to maintain a grassroots effort in
these David-and-Goliath situations," says Winter. "A community is really at
But Hoffman, the airport consultant, is not convinced that Hanscom is a
threat to the neighborhood or the park. He claims Hanscom's location is too
attractive to pass up (in fact, his firm and others decided in the 1990s
that if there were more land available for development, Hanscom would have
been the top choice for another major airport in New England), and that the
argument over its air and ground traffic is not based in reality.
"Birds and park services are copacetic (with airports) all over the
country," says Hoffman, who lives in Bedford. "It's just the old Minuteman
Trail, and I don't see how planes flying overhead can harm that. Airplanes
are getting quieter and quieter.
"To me, it's political, a turf battle, and not (based) on any technical
Jason Lefferts' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
January 16, 2003
Letter: Hanscom isn't downtown Boston
A recent Lowell Sun article ("Revolution in the Air," Jan. 5, 2002) contains a remark by Massport's Richard Walsh that should not go unanswered. Referring to air traffic from Logan, Mr. Walsh states, "It doesn't stop millions of people from enjoying the Freedom Trail and the Boston Harbor Islands." This supposedly bolsters Massport's claim that Hanscom has no impact on the visitor's experience at Minute Man Park, Walden, and the other internationally important resources nearby.
The Freedom Trail is in the middle of a city. It cannot legitimately be compared to sites like the North Bridge that are in a historically authentic rural setting, with no intrusion from the sights and sounds of modern life. The Sun article recognizes this: "[T]he towns around Hanscom are not downtown Boston, where historical sites are squeezed between contemporary development and city traffic. Revolutionary War areas near Hanscom are often hidden from the street, surrounded by forest and a few isolated homes."
Scientific studies have shown that the ambient sound level overwhelmingly influences how people experience noise. The FAA and the Park Service rely upon such studies in implementing federal laws mandating reduced air traffic over Grand Canyon National Park and limitations on commercial sightseeing flights over all national parks.
As for the Harbor Islands: Obviously, the near-constant overflights from Logan do have a significant negative impact on the visitor's experience of these pristine places. How, then, can Mr. Walsh claim otherwise? It's because the law creating the Harbor Islands Recreation Area specifically provides that Logan "shall not be deemed to have a significant effect on [the Islands'] natural, scenic, and recreation assets." In other words, no court or agency will consider a claim that noise from Logan impacts the visitor's experience of the Harbor Islands, because the law conclusively declares that it does not!
Mr. Walsh knows about this provision, because Massport lobbied hard for it. Such lobbying is entirely consistent with Massport's narrow mission, which is to expand the airports under its jurisdiction - not to protect the people and places harmed by those airports.
In the coming year, please join us as we work to develop federal legislation to protect over 1,000 National Historic Register sites and more than 8,000 acres of protected public open space from Hanscom-generated noise, just as federal law now protects all national parks from air tours and the Grand Canyon from air traffic of all kinds.
Save Our Heritage
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January 30, 2003
Letter: Aviation is part of nation's history
Anna Winter enjoys using American history to buttress traditional NIMBY arguments, as she did in the Jan. 16 letter "Hanscom isn't downtown Boston." But our nation has a rich and varied history and it is not exclusive to the suburbs of Concord or Lincoln. On Dec. 17, 2003 America will celebrate the centennial of Orville Wright's first flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and the era of powered flight. Within a quarter century of this historic day, Charles Lindbergh would fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; within 45 years, a rocket-powered aircraft would break the sound barrier; and within 66 years, astronauts would walk on the moon.
Airplanes and the freedom they represent still excite the imagination, so it's not unusual to see families parked along Virginia Road on summer nights watching aircraft arrive and depart or sitting at picnic tables around the Civil Terminal. Hanscom has proudly served the aviation needs of Eastern Massachusetts and our armed services for more than 60 years and we look forward to meeting the Commonwealth's aviation needs long into the future.
Massport expends considerable resources both around Hanscom and the City of Boston searching for ways to coexist with our neighbors. Whether it's producing comprehensive environmental studies or supporting worthy projects such as the Piers Park Sailing Program in East Boston or contributing $200,000 to the town of Concord to preserve the Thoreau Birthplace, Massport has always sought to be a good neighbor.
America's history includes Orville's 12-second flight and all the advances which followed. Let's not close our minds to or turn our back on our proud national history.
Jose Juves, director
Massachusetts Port Authority
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