JANUARY 20, 2003
A critical phase in the decades-old Logan runway battle begins Tuesday when the Massachusetts Port Authority faces off against the city of Boston in court over a 29-year-old injunction barring the project's construction. The trial, which will include expert testimony about the runway's potential impact on neighboring communities and the airport's history of flight delays, is expected to last two weeks.
The injunction is one of the last and largest barriers to Massport's decades-old quest to build the 5,000-foot runway, which would be the airport's sixth. The FAA approved the project last summer for use when winds out of the northeast or southeast are blowing at 10 knots or greater.
"This is a major step in the saga of the runway," said Craig Coy, chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees Logan. It is not the last step, however. Logan's neighbors have filed a suit in federal court, appealing the FAA's approval of the runway, arguing that the FAA did not adequately analyze the noise and air quality impacts on their communities. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the FAA would not release money for the runway or provide the necessary approval of airport layout plans until the federal suit has run its course.
A Suffolk Superior Court judge imposed the injunction in 1974, when Logan was proposing a similar runway project to relieve congestion at the airport. The court ruled that Massport had not appropriately reviewed the runway's impact.
In February 1999 Massport filed a proposal to begin the process again, arguing that the airport was choking with congestion. The state environmental agency signed on in June 2001 and the FAA followed suit in August 2002, clearing the way Massport argues for the lifting of the long-standing injunction.
Airport officials say the new runway will ease congestion during strong northwest winds, which can create delays of at least three hours when airport operations are limited to only one runway, instead of the usual three-runway combination. The "unidirectional" runway would be used for small commuter jets, with landings and takeoffs over the water, which officials argue would limit the impact on nearby neighborhoods.
Citizen activists claim the environmental analysis of the runway has been flawed and that the historically congested airport has not proven that the project is necessary. This argument was bolstered, they say, by recent reports that delays at Logan have decreased 23 percent over the past year because of the slow economy and lingering side-effects of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Citizens also argue that there are other ways to reduce delays, including the adoption of a pricing plan that would give airlines incentives to schedule their flights during the least congested hours of the day. "We feel there are a number of alternatives to construction that would accomplish what the travelers want and what the neighbors want," said Bill Manning, of Citizens Against Runway Expansion, or CARE. "But the argument is always skewed toward travelers, and the neighborhoods are ignored."
Adding intrigue to the debate recently were documents, obtained by CARE under the Freedom of Information Act, which showed that an FAA consultant at one point claimed that Massport's flight-delay estimates were severely overstated. The language was deleted from the final version of the environmental review. An FAA spokeswoman said that language changed from draft to draft, but the findings did not.
"We always felt our side was correct, but now we're absolutely certain because of this cover-up," said Jerry Falbo, of Winthrop, who is on CARE's executive committee. Coy said the final FAA report "speaks for itself." He said the charges about a cover-up "are just a failing argument by a lawyer trying to do something for his client."
Source: Associated Press