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Tweed-New Haven Airport hopes to expand. Now, local activists want to study its environmental burden

FILE, 2021: Vice President Kamala Harris boards Air Force Two at Tweed New Haven airport.
Mark Mirko
The Hartford Courant
FILE, 2021: Vice President Kamala Harris boards Air Force Two at Tweed New Haven airport.

Environmental activists are planning their own air pollution study this summer of the Tweed-New Haven Airport. This comes amid a proposed expansion to the airport’s terminals and runway.

The group, called 10,000 Hawks, is teaming up with scientists and aviation experts to place sensors at homes near Tweed’s airfield. Their goal is to study released air pollution, such as ultrafine particles and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) – both of which are linked to health problems.

Gretl Gallicchio, a community lead on the study, wants the data to influence decisions surrounding future expansions of Tweed-New Haven Airport.

“We are hoping that our project will, among other things, help us argue against further expansions of all kinds at all stages, but also help the community itself,” Gallicchio said.

Her group’s study emerges as the public comment period for an EPA-mandated draft Environmental Assessment of the airport's expansion ends on Monday.

Officials from Tweed said that peer-reviewed assessment is in-line with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards. The draft assessment projected the initial airport expansion will have “little impact” to the nearby community or environment. 

“It is scientific and peer reviewed by experts at the FAA, the EPA, Army Corp of Engineers and CT DEEP, making it the gold standard for understanding and projecting the environmental impact of the airport, including air quality,” said Tom Rafter, Tweed’s executive director, in a statement.

But nearby residents feel that expansion will worsen neighborhood air quality and noise pollution. East Haven, which borders the airport, is already categorized as one of Connecticut’s environmental justice communities.

According to the latest “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association, New Haven county has a failing score for ozone pollution. Thousands are projected to be at risk of respiratory issues.

10,000 Hawks and other advocates have been calling for a more rigorous and detailed Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the airport’s current expansion plans and for decades to come.

In a combined statement, Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven and Rep. Al Paolillo, D-New Haven, also called for the FAA to go a step further than the assessment, and do a full impact statement.

"We still feel that alone it does not go far enough to examine the potential risks of the project, both to the wildlife and delicate ecosystems surrounding the airport and to our constituents living in the area," the group said.

So far, 10,000 Hawks has received a $10,000 grant for the study from the Greater New Haven Green Fund, and also has support from the program Thriving Earth Exchange.

Gallicchio said there’s only so much her community can do at this point. The independent study measuring the air quality and noise pollution could help with that.

“What we're hoping to do is provide some hard evidence that makes it clear, really clear that further study is needed,” Gallicchio said.

Public comment on the draft environmental assessment closes Monday, May 1. If the FAA agrees there’s no significant impact based on public input and the assessment, the expansion moves forward.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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