Massachusetts Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit Opposing New Logan Airport Runway

APRIL 22, 2004

Allison Steiber wishes it had been some high-minded sense of civic duty that transformed her 13 years ago into a diehard opponent of runway expansion at Logan International Airport, but the change actually was triggered by a few weeks of jet-induced insomnia at her new home in Somerville.

Many opponents have been fighting the new runway on noise and pollution grounds even longer, some all the way back to when the idea was first proposed in the early 1970s. But they and Steiber all got the same news yesterday -- that the state's highest court had rejected their final legal challenge to the controversial $100 million expansion project that has been on drawing boards and in the courts for three decades.

Now Steiber is concerned that, if air traffic overhead increases, her home could become unlivable and she would have to consider selling. That possibility, she said, raises another concern: Who is going to buy it? "If someone comes out to an open house on a Sunday morning, and there is a procession of jet planes overhead, are they going to stay interested?" she said. "I'm not optimistic."

In a unanimous decision made public yesterday, the state Supreme Judicial Court threw out a lawsuit brought against Massport by the town of Hull. Lawyers for the town had sued, alleging that the state's environmental review of Massport's runway proposal was flawed and that the transportation agency had used false and misleading information to gain state approval.

In October 2002 a Superior Court judge threw out the case a week before it was to go to trial. Hull appealed. Lawyers for Massport, concerned about a lengthy appeals process, then asked the courts for a direct and expedited ruling on the case by the full Supreme Judicial Court.

Without weighing the actual merits of Hull's allegations, the justices' decision released yesterday upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss them, saying they were not new and had all been previously addressed during the environmental review process. Yesterday's decision caps a disheartening six months for runway opponents, a period in which all three of their remaining legal challenges to the expansion project were decided in Massport's favor.

The new 5,000-foot runway, which would be the airport's sixth, is designed to reduce delays at New England's busiest airport and will be used only when winds out of the northwest or southeast are blowing at 10 knots or greater, Massport officials insist.

The runway plan was put on hold in 1976, when the City of Boston first obtained a state court injunction barring the project from moving forward. In November, however, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford ruled on another lawsuit filed by North Shore towns that opposed the runway, saying that while the 1976 injunction still applied, it could be modified so that Massport could build the runway as long as it adhered to certain conditions.

In January, a federal Appeals Court in Washington upheld the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of the new runway, calling the arguments of anti-runway citizen groups "meritless." The court's decision does not mean Massport bulldozers can begin rolling right away, however. Botsford must issue a final judgment that will sign off on modifications to the injunction, and interested parties have until April 30 to give her their suggestions.

Source: Boston Globe