Residents Vote to Join in Appeal of FAA Decision

JANUARY 24, 2001

Although the vote itself carried no legal weight, residents at Monday's special Town Meeting were overwhelmingly clear: Bedford should join in an appeal of the FAA's decision to allow flights from Hanscom Air Force Base to LaGuardia Airport in New York.

More than 600 residents lined the sidewalk as far back as the Bedford Library to get into the Monday meeting which resulted in a 505 to 128 vote in favor of an article that resolved the town would join in the appeal filed by Save Our Heritage. Of the four Save Our Heritage member towns -- Bedford, Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord -- Bedford is the only town to have refrained from joining the appeal.

During the meeting Selectman Chairman Mark Siegenthaler called the meeting an "advisory exercise" since Town Meeting doesn't have the authority to enter the town into litigation. Before the vote, however, Siegenthaler said selectmen would revisit the issue should the article pass.

The unusually large Town Meeting crowd prompted Town Moderator Betsey Anderson to appoint three assistant moderators to be set up in science classrooms in the high school, where residents could hear Town Meeting discussion and have their votes counted, but were not be able to see presentations.

The special Town Meeting, which presented voters with both an article on the FAA appeal as well as an article to adopt the Community Preservation Act, was supposed to begin with discussion of the Community Preservation Act but a motion from the floor to move the FAA appeal to the forefront was passed 408 to 269.

Bedford resident and member of the Bedford Hanscom Action Committee, the group of residents that solicited signatures to call the Town Meeting, Lori Eggert began the presentation of the article and said the town needs to stay united with its sister towns and use resources like "tough negotiation and legal measures" that are available to it.

The FAA's allowing Shuttle America's LaGuardia-to-Hanscom flights is an issue of expansion of the air field said Ron Green, a resident and member of the action committee in his presentation of the article. He described the flights as "one foot in the door" and said if any commercial aviation is permitted then floodgates are open to other commercial flights.

He said that residents asked that the town join the appeal because the town's legal protection in this matter is limited. He said National Historical Preservation laws require that in order to change operations in or near a historic park the proponent of the change must solicit community input.

He said in this case the FAA brought the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission in too late and there was insufficient local input for the analysis.

If the matter is found in favor of the towns, the appeal would require a full and detailed impact review.

Green said the appeal was initiated and funded by Save Our Heritage. He added that it is the only legal leverage Bedford has and it would establish a "standing" for future actions.

Siegenthaler said the selectmen would have preferred to have an open forum to deal with Hanscom issues as opposed to a Town Meeting that carried no legal weight.

Defending the selectmen's position, Siegenthaler said the board does not believe the town should participate in the appeal. As previously reported, the selectmen discussed the matter three times and came to the consensus opinion that it was not in the town's best interest to join.

Siegenthaler said, considering past experiences, lawsuits have limited Massport's ability to participate in discussion.

Finance Committee Chairman John McCulloch said the Finance Committee recommended disapproval of the article because of possible future financial impacts to the town.

Bedford resident John Filios said Hanscom is not a serious consideration for expansion of commercial airlines because of its location. He said it is too close to Boston for flight patterns and physical limits on the runways because they are too short. He added that he believes the selectmen made reasoned objections and that he supported their stand.

In response to a resident's question Siegenthaler said members of the board have met with Massport officials once privately to discuss Hanscom issues. He added that it is not the intent of selectmen to cut a private deal with Massport and that the board's plan is to do continue advocating for reasoned discussion with Massport.

In a prepared statement, Massport Executive Director and CEO Virginia Buckingham responded to Monday's decision saying that Massport appreciated the selectmen's desire to "reach out and maintain an honest, civil and fair dialogue" regarding the issues associated with Hanscom Field. Buckingham said she felt that "consistent and honest communication" was better route than what she classified as a "fruitless legal battle."

Source: Bedford Minuteman

See also:Residents Demand that Town Join Lawsuit over Massachusetts Airport (Dec. 17, 2000)