Towns Drop Lawsuit Against Massport


FEBRUARY 4, 2001
BEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS

A newly unified coalition of towns opposed to commercial air traffic at Hanscom Field has dropped a lawsuit against Massport and will refine its strategy to focus on federal court action and an upcoming environmental review of the airport.

The revised strategy follows an overwhelming vote by Bedford residents that the town join Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln in appealing the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of expanding service from Hanscom to New York's LaGuardia Airport.

"One of our most powerful assets in the whole process is the unanimity among the communities about what's important," said Peter Enrich, Lexington selectman and chairman of the Hanscom Area Towns Committee (HATS). "Before the Bedford vote, there were concerns whether the communities were all singing from the same songbook. Now we can reaffirm that we're all pursuing a single strategy."

Bedford selectmen voted unamimously on Monday night to join the FAA appeal following the 505-128 special Town Meeting vote Jan. 21 urging that move. Selectmen had previously voted, 5-0, to not join the appeal, saying that continued court action harmed negotiations with Massport.

"The selectmen balanced what we wish we could do against what the community has expressed the desire for us to do," said Mark Siegenthaler, chairman of the Bedford selectmen. "Each of us reiterated our concerns about the strategy but is willing to acknowledge that the community wishes us to be part of the appeal, and we represent the community."

Throughout the Hanscom debate, the Bedford selectmen have said the discussion was more about tactics, not values. Bedford has consistently supported "Hanscom At The Crossroads," which calls for a moratorium on commercial air traffic and has been endorsed by 10 nearby towns.

The FAA appeal, filed by the activist group Save Our Heritage and joined by numerous other parties, claims the agency did not fully consider Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act, which mandates that federal projects be subject to review of their effect on historic sites.

The state lawsuit terminated last week by HATS was filed in the summer of 1999 to contest Massport's approval process for Shuttle America to begin commercial air service. The towns lost a bid for a preliminary injunction and a move for a summary judgment, which Enrich called "disappointing but useful."

"The rulings have served the important purpose of clarifying just how few protections current state law affords to the communities or to those concerned about the region's history and environment when faced with unilateral actions by Massport that sharply intensify the use of Hanscom Field," Enrich said.

He said the change in strategy by HATS was "part of the continuing process of reevaluating how towns can be most effective in representing their interests." "We're going into a stage where the environmental impact will be the central focus for the towns and for Massport," he said. "This is an opportunity to test how cooperatively we can work."

Both Enrich and Siegenthaler said they hope to address limits at Hanscom in the course of the environmental review. "To the extent that we can continue to focus on impacts and limitations and do that in a way that works together to get to those answers, we can be successful," Siegenthaler said. "The environmental review will have a look at impacts at Hanscom and give communities a chance to weigh in on acceptable and unacceptable levels, hopefully."

Massport spokesman Richard Walsh said the agency was ready to focus on the environmental review and is hoping for a "productive conversation" with HATS selectmen. "We are happy to hear that the selectmen have decided to drop the lawsuit," Walsh said. "That's a step in the right direction. Lawsuits in general have a tendency to prohibit dialogue. But we all have to understand that Hanscom Field has a role to play in the regional system. Regardless of lawsuits, the towns need to realize Hanscom's role. If we can't agree on basics, it will be difficult to have a productive conversation."

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See also Towns Voluntarily Dismiss Suit Against Massport (Jan. 31, 2000)