FEDERAL COURT GIVES WAY FOR RUNWAY SAFETY AREA IMPROVEMENTS TO PROCEED AT TWEED NEW HAVEN AIRPORT
(10/26/2008) NEW HAVEN- At a news conference at Tweed New Haven Airport today, Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. announced that the United States District Court issued a decision on Friday allowing Tweed New Haven Airport to proceed with Runway Safety Area (RSA) improvements that have been challenged by the Town of East Haven for years.
The Airport Authority brought an action in U.S. District Court seeking to prevent the Town of East Haven and its Boards and Commissions from continuing to use local municipal powers to obstruct construction of a federally-mandated aviation safety project to build RSAs at each end of the main runway. The Authority argued that East Haven’s municipal powers are preempted by federal law because the Federal Aviation Administration has complete and exclusive control of airline safety, including runways.
In a strongly-worded decision issued on Friday afternoon, District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ruled that “because the Runway Project’s purpose is airline safety and will take place within the Airport boundaries, the East Haven defendants’ regulations as applied to the Runway Project are preempted by Federal law.”
“Public safety should never be knowingly put at risk—and that is what has been at issue here,” said DeStefano. “This is and has always been about safety. The improvements are necessary for the safety of people in the air and on the ground in both East Haven and New Haven. We are very pleased with the decision of the Court and plan to proceed immediately with the FAA mandated improvements.”
Hall agreed with the Authority’s position that RSAs are a vital component of airline safety because they “enhance the safety of air travelers by providing an area for aircraft which undershoot, overrun, or veer off the runway.” Citing extensive case law, Hall found that “Congress intended to occupy the entire field of airline safety, including runways.” Hall rejected defendant East Haven’s argument that the Runway Project is an issue of land use regulation, rather than airport safety.
The ruling states that, “The proposed RSAs have been thoroughly vetted by regulatory bodies over many years… The project has been approved by the FAA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.“
The order permanently enjoins the Town of East Haven defendants from taking any action which would have the effect of stopping, changing, interfering with, or delaying the Runway Project. The decision concludes that the Airport may proceed with construction of the Runway Project and “that East Haven and its subdivisions, officers, elected officials, employees, agents, boards, and commissions, and those acting in concert therewith, have no jurisdiction, power, or authority to enforce any regulation, ordinance, rule, code, or law promulgated by East Haven… to regulate, review, approve, deny, or condition construction of the Runway Project.”
DeStefano expressed the City and the Authority’s plan to continue to pursue legislative support for the “Time is Now” package. This package, which DeStefano unveiled at a news conference earlier this month, reflects the vision of the airport, a $20 million community benefits package and proposed legislative actions that would help Tweed expand commercial service to additional hub cities and grows hobs and tax revenues for the region. These points grew out of discussions with East Haven and North Haven elected officials last spring.
The Community Benefits program detailed in the plan includes:
- Investments in nose attenuation systems for 100 homeowners in the high noise zone,
- Investments in new traffic calming measures along Airport access roads,
- Investments in Land Trust Stewardship, including a new ring park around the airport,
- Provides a $500 “Homestead Tax Credit” to all homeowners within 1,500 linear feet of the main runway
- Provides an annual $2 million “Host Community” benefit split between East Haven and New Haven funded by PILOT.
Further, Legislators are asked to release previously approved $5 million state bond, authorize a new $20 million state bond (over three years) to fund infrastructure improvements and the community benefits proposal.
DeStefano echoed New Haven’s commitment to making Tweed a successful regional resource while taking into consideration the needs of the airport’s immediate neighbors. “Under my leadership, New Haven will remain a cooperative and supportive neighbor to East Haven as we undergo improvements to the RSAs. Tweed will now become a safer airport for residents and visitors of Greater New Haven to enjoy which will yield significant economic development benefits for the region,” said DeStefano.
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