Tweed expansion pits Lamont’s economic agenda against environmental justice goals

As state officials and business leaders line up to support a planned expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport, the two neighboring cities – New Haven and East Haven – are vying for an unequal share of the economic benefits and environmental costs of the project.

Governor Ned Lamont is, so far, a strong supporter of the plan.

“That’s how you open a state. This is how you get a state moving again,” Lamont said during a May 6, 2021, press conference announcing the expansion, according to a New Haven Register article. “This is a really important project in the most important region of the state.”

But while the economic benefits of the expansion are clear, a recent study of hospital and emergency department visits by DataHaven — and CT Examiner petitions to federal, state and local authorities — raises important questions about the seriousness with which the proponents of the project study or consider the possible effects on the health of local residents.

New Haven and East Haven are both referred to as “environmental justice” communities – a term that takes into account the poverty and racial makeup of a census tract – and under a 1994 federal executive order , projects like Tweed’s expansion must identify and address “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”

Environmental justice has also been a focus for the Lamont administration and Democrats in the state legislature.

But according to the DataHaven study, while New Haven residents are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized or seek emergency department help for asthma than the state average, about 60 visits per 10,000, in the East Haven neighborhood directly adjacent to the expansion project, that number is almost triple the state average, or about 174 per 10,000.

A 2021 review of the impact of commercial aircraft activity on air quality by employees of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency found that ultrafine particles are elevated around airports and associated with lung inflammation in people with asthma.

Asked by the CT Examiner about the impact of the expansion on the neighborhood’s public health, Save the Sound attorney Chris Kelly said residents of East Haven have a right to feel uncomfortable.

“A lot of people are worried because they live in an area that’s more polluted and has more problems than other parts of the county,” Kelly said. “They want to know more about what it really means to them.”

Kelly also said New Haven County has the highest air pollution levels in the state, which should spur air quality monitoring in Tweed.

Lorena Venegas, a local community activist, said she was surprised when the expansion was announced in May 2021. “What does East Haven get out of it? What did we sign up for? asked Venegas (CT Examiner)

That’s what Lynne Bonnett, a New Haven resident and environmental justice advocate, asked state officials to do.

Bonnett plans to install air monitors with Clarity, an air sensing company, and have UConn students analyze the data, at a cost of about $1,000 per year for each monitor and $50,000 to fund a study with the university.

Bonnett told CT Examiner that members of 10,000 Hawks, who oppose the expansion, have asked Tweed Airport Authority Executive Director Sean Scanlon to help the group install quality monitors. from the air at the airport, but according to Bonnett, Scanlon refused.

In a series of phone and email conversations with CT Examiner, Scanlon acknowledged that he had been approached about air quality monitoring and said he was open to the idea, but postponed. question the usefulness of collecting data on air quality at the airport.

“It’s important to consider that air quality monitoring stations tell you emission levels, but not emission sources,” Scanlon explained in an email. “Given our location near a busy port and highway, it would be impossible for this monitoring station to determine what is coming from the airport.”

McFarland Johnson, Inc., which was hired by Tweed to perform an environmental assessment of the project, relies instead on computer modeling.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is overseeing the review, did not provide a substantive response to email inquiries about entering environmental impact data at Tweed.

But according to Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy lawyer for Save the Sound, computer modeling is only as accurate as the data that informs the simulation. Rothenberger suggested a better approach would be to use portable air pollution monitors to provide quality data in real time.

A house on Stuyvesant Ave. in East Haven, backing onto Tweed Airport (CT Examiner)

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, who supports the expansion, also supports the installation of air quality monitors around Tweed, and said he has discussed the idea with the Department of Health. state energy and environmental protection.

“While it’s difficult to know exactly where the source of the pollutants is,” Elicker said, “it will be helpful for us to understand the type of air quality in the area so we can respond.”

Elicker also acknowledged that residents of New Haven and East Haven were at increased risk for respiratory illnesses, but in a phone interview with CT Examiner, he argued for economic development as a way to improve the health of residents. local residents.

“Improving the economy in New Haven and increasing job opportunities for people will also improve health outcomes by allowing them better access to health care,” Elicker said.

Along with the upcoming New Haven Harbor Channel Deepening, Union Station redevelopment and direct access to I-95, Elicker said Tweed will increase access to the city and its economy.

Current Avelo destinations for flights departing from Tweed. (Source: https://flytweed.com/destinations/)

Scanlon acknowledged that many residents were worried about the expansion, but said based on Tweed’s polls and ticket sales reports, most members of the community are supportive of the airport.

“East Haven is in the top five for people buying tickets statewide, so people are supporting it with their wallets,” Scanlon said.

Edith Pestana, the state official responsible for overseeing environmental justice for DEEP, acknowledged that she had received many complaints about airport emissions from neighboring Tweed residents, but said that, as the environmental assessment falls under the jurisdiction of the FAA, its jurisdiction is limited.

“If there were illegal air emissions leaving the property and affecting the community, we would respond,” she told CT Examiner. “But at this point there are no standards for jet fuel.”

Pestana said the EPA also controls jet fuel emissions. She said she forwards resident complaints to the EPA.

“We have no teeth in the game,” Pestana said.

Asked about “Any comments or concerns regarding environmental justice issues related to the Tweed New Haven airport expansion,” Lamont spokesman Anthony Anthony referred the CT reviewer to DEEP for comment.

Elna M. Lemons