Three Towns Get Hearing in Lawsuit Challenging
Environmental Review of New Runway at Boston

APRIL 11, 2002

A judge ruled last week that the lawsuit of three South Shore against the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Boston's Logan Airport, can go to trial. The lawsuit, filed last fall by Hull and supported by money from Hingham and Cohasset, alleges that the environmental review of a proposed new runway was flawed and incomplete. Residents of the three towns also are concerned about the increased air and noise pollution that additional flights could bring.

Hull, Hingham, and Cohasset, along with Revere and Somerville among communities north of Boston, have contributed about $250,000 to the legal effort, according to Hull Town Manager Philip Lemnios. Last week, Cohasset Town Meeting approved spending another $30,000. Later this month, Hingham will consider contributing an additional $100,000, and in May, Hull will consider contributing an additional $90,000. The attempt to secure more funding comes at a critical juncture in the lawsuit's progress, Lemnios said.

Hull's lawsuit is one of two filed in opposition to the proposed runway. Massport said it was "gratified" that two counts in the suit had been dismissed -- a claim that Massport purposely filed false information to gain approval of its environmental review, and a request that Massport submit a new review before proceeding with the runway project.

"We look forward to a legal review of the facts," said Massport spokeswoman Barbara Platt. Lawyers were expected to meet with Plymouth County Superior Court Judge Charles Hely today to discuss scheduling a trial.

The new runway, expected to cost $100 million, has been under discussion for almost 30 years. Massport officials say it is necessary to offset delays caused by wind patterns that frequently force other runways to close, not to accommodate any more flights.

"There's a misconception that this runway will expand capacity," said Flavio Leo, an aviation planning manager for Logan. Leo said the new runway will allow Massport to reconfigure flight patterns and create a more equitable distribution of noise among communities near the airport. The runway will increase the number of flights passing over Hingham, Hull and Cohasset from about 92,000 per year to 116,000 per year, Leo said. But he added that the number of flights on other runways affecting the South Shore will be reduced.

Critics of the new runway, saying that they believe the number of new flights over their communities will be significantly higher, have suggested Massport consider other solutions to Logan delays, such as supporting the use of airports in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, or raising prices on flights during peak flying periods. According to Leo, Logan already participates in efforts to regionalize air transportation, and cannot institute so-called "peak pricing" unless airlines overbook the airport.

"Every question has been asked. Every question has been answered," said Leo, who expressed confidence in Massport's environmental review.

William Golden of the Braintree law firm Baker, Braverman, and Barbadoro, which is representing Hull, said he is anticipating a "unique opportunity" to argue the case in court. He said the runway will have a tremendous impact on residents, but will do little to reduce delays. Golden also said Logan can redirect flight patterns over the water without another runway, thereby lessening the burden on all communities near the airport. Platt said Massport is awaiting a review of the new flight patterns by the Federal Aviation Administration, but said they wouldn't eliminate the need for the new runway.

By a majority vote, Cohasset selectmen did not endorse the $30,000 request. Cohasset already had contributed $48,500 to the lawsuit, said Selectman Thomas Callahan, and there was no assurance that the town wouldn't be asked to spend more. Callahan added that although board members do not agree with Massport, they also do not believe the lawsuit is the best way to challenge the runway.

Eric Oddleifson, a Cohasset representative to the South Shore Jet Pollution Council, said the new runway could bring an additional 100,000 flights per year over Hingham, Hull, and Cohasset, numbers Massport disputes. He said increased attention to the concern about the runway's potential impact was instrumental in convincing Cohasset Town Meeting to approve spending $30,000. "It's an awareness issue," Oddleifson said.

Source: Boston Globe