Federal Appeals Court Hears Oral Argument in Hanscom (Massachusetts) Airport Case


AUGUST 2, 2001
BOSTON

A coalition of groups and towns opposing the expansion of commercial air service at Hanscom Field in Bedford asked a federal appeals panel Thursday to order a detailed review of the airport's growth. The opponents have long argued that Hanscom's growth into a commercial airport will harm a host of nearby historic sites, which include Revolutionary War battle fields and sites associated with some of America's most important authors.

State and federal agencies argue that review is not required because earlier studies of the airport's expansion showed only minimal impact on the area.

During oral arguments before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, lawyers for the opponents argued that the Federal Aviation Administration should have conducted a review under the National Historic Preservation Act, known as a 106 review, before allowing Shuttle America to fly between Hanscom and New York's LaGuardia Airport last fall.

Opponents want the FAA review to be carried out now, before piecemeal development harms the historic area, which includes Minuteman National Park, the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, and Walden Woods.

"It's the salami theory," said Neil Rasmussen, president of Save Our Heritage, part of the coalition that also includes the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln and Bedford. "You give them a slice here, a slice there, and pretty soon you'll give them the whole salami."

Commercial service out of Hanscom began in 1999, when Shuttle America began running shuttle services to Trenton, N.J., Buffalo, N.Y., and Greensboro, N.C. a total of 10 flights a day. The Massachusetts Port Authority is pushing for the expansion as part of their continuing efforts to divert some air traffic away from Logan Airport.

Lawyers for the FAA and Massport argued they were exempted from conducting the 106 review after earlier environmental impact studies showed the growth of the airport would have only limited impact. As commercial expansion was being considered in 1999, there were already 540 private and military flights a day at the airport, often by jets noisier than commercial passenger planes, said Alice Thurston, a lawyer for the FAA.

Judges on the panel also asked opponents why a challenge to the appeals court was not filed in September 1999 when expansion was first approved. "It baffles me that this challenge was not mounted at that time," said U.S. Appeals Court Judge Bruce M. Selya.

Andrea C. Fester, lawyer for the opponents group, countered that the initial studies never envisaged the current level of expansion, and failed to look at road traffic problems caused by the expansion.

Traffic going to and from the airport travels along a road flanking Minuteman National Park. Speaking after Thursday's hearing, Nancy Nelson, the park's superintendent, said she feared if the road were expanded it would have to come at the expense of the park. "Our concern is that the public's interest to protect the park be legitimately considered," Nelson said.

The high-visibility opposition to the airport's expansion, which has come to include celebrities like actor Paul Newman and historian David McCullough, has also lead some airlines to ditch plans to operate there. US Airways said in June it had decided not to serve Hanscom Field because of community concern over new flights.

But legal challenges have not gone the opponents' way. In a 1999 decision, a Middlesex Superior Court Judge refused to bar the Shuttle America flights, and last November the federal appeals court said it wouldn't block the FAA's ruling allowing the LaGuardia flights.

Source: Associated Press