MAY 2, 2000
Opponents of Logan International Airport's proposed runway expansion claimed a key victory yesterday when a Suffolk Superior Court judge allowed an injunction against the runway to stand, paving the way for a trial on the issue for the first time in its 28-year history.
Runway foes have continually argued that a new runway would burden Boston and surrounding communities with noise and air pollution. Airport officials counter that the runway is needed to ease delays caused by New England's capricious weather, which sometimes forces Logan to operate with a single runway.
Judge Margot Botsford's ruling, which denied a motion by Massport to lift the 28-year-old injunction, gives runway opponents a chance to argue in court that officials failed to follow state environmental guidelines.
Soon after construction of the runway began in 1974, Boston, Winthrop, Chelsea, and Somerville were granted an injunction after arguing that Logan began the project without a proper environmental review.
Last year, state Environment Secretary Robert Durand did give the Massachusetts Port Authority, the agency that operates Logan, a green light. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to issue its ruling on the project in the next few weeks. But even if the FAA were to rule in Massport's favor, the injunction would still have to be lifted for the project to move forward.
"This is another win for us," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "Given the changes in aviation since the events of Sept. 11, there are even more questions regarding this project, and we'll continue to fight the expansion plan at Logan Airport."
Massport officials say they are prepared to defend their efforts to have the injunction lifted. "This decision confirms that the door is open to lifting and modifying the 1974 runway injunction," said Massport spokesman Jose Juves. "Now the next step is to make a full and exhaustive case and present the facts in a court of law." A separate trial on a suit filed by runway opponents is already scheduled in Plymouth County but the Suffolk County case is considered more important because the injunction is the key impediment to the construction. The Plymouth County lawsuit, pitting the communities of Hull, Hingham, and Cohasset against Massport, is scheduled for trial in October. That lawsuit alleges that Massport provided a flawed and incomplete environmental review of the project.
"Today's court decision, we hope, will help Massport refocus its skewed priorities and examine whether a flawed runway takes precedence over improving passenger safety," said Anastasia Lyman, an organizer with Communities Against Runway Expansion. "The sooner [Massport] gets those priorities straight, the better off we'll all be."
CARE is one of several groups along with several towns and cities surrounding the airport waging the legal battle against the runway.
Botsford scheduled a conference on May 13 to discuss a date for the trial.
Massport officials said they will argue that the project has changed substantially since 1974 and that it is unfair to continue the court-ordered stay after the state has given the project its environmental approval. FAA approval could further bolster Massport's case.
In addition, officials plan to argue that the current proposed 5,000-foot runway is so different from the 3,500-foot runway initially envisioned in the mid-1970s that the injunction should not apply. Massport officials also have said that smaller, less noisy regional jets would use the new runway.
Runway opponents, however, maintain that decreased air traffic since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks lessens the need for another runway. Massport officials say that passenger volume, while still below the level of this same period last year, is starting to rebound.
Massport officials were buoyed by a footnote in Botsford's ruling that seemed to raise the possibility that the injunction might be lifted. Although deciding that there should be a trial on the merits of the injunction, Botsford wrote that her ruling "certainly does not signify a determination that Massport is not entitled to a modification of the 1976 injunction in light of changed circumstances."
Botsford's decision is the latest step in a lengthy case.
FAA administrator Jane Garvey suggested a compromise last month that would allow a "wind-restricted" runway to be built that would only be used when northwest winds forced Logan to use only one or two of its three existing runways.
Aside from environmental concerns, runway opponents also have argued that the runway is now being used by Massport as an economic development tool rather than a justified means of reducing passenger delays.
Massport officials have said that one-third of the delays at the airport can be blamed on the current runway configuration and the prevailing northwest winds.
Despite pleas from both the state attorney general and Garvey, CARE lawyer Peter Koff said Massport officials still refuse to mediate the standoff. Juves said Massport officials have always "welcomed the opportunity for discussion" but not if it means delaying a court case and the chance to have the injunction lifted.
But with the runway controversy now part of two upcoming trials, Koff said "it ought to make Massport more interested in thinking about coming to the table and mediating a solution. But unless Massport's agreeable, there's obviously nothing we can do."
Source: Boston Globe
Longtime opponents of a proposed new runway at Logan International Airport have won a key victory with a judge refusing to lift a 28-year-old injunction and instead ordering the bitter issue to trial.
"We're ecstatic," said Anastasia Lyman, vice president of Communities Against Runway Expansion, a citizens' group representing 27 North and South shore communities that fought the runway because, they said, it would increase noise and air pollution. "Massport is paying for their arrogance," Lyman said. "They're finding they cannot ramrod this in the legal system. There are too many eyes watching and we applaud the judge saying this must go to trial."
In her April 29 ruling made public yesterday, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford said there are too many "disputed factual issues" in the complex case that "preclude" her from simply allowing construction to proceed without a full trial on the thorny issue.
Massport had requested the injunction be lifted.
"We plan to be in court on May 13 (when a trial date is set) to ensure the injunction against the runway remains in place," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a steadfast runway opponent.
At issue is a runway Massport proposed to build back in 1974, along with an extension of two other landing strips, but was blocked when a court ruled it did not file the necessary environmental impact reports assessing the effects on nearby communities. The court permanently blocked further construction until Massport complied.
Fast forward to the present, with Massport's proposal to build a new 5,000-foot runway, known as 14/32, in the same area where it proposed to build the earlier one, the southwestern edge of Logan. Massport officials want the runway to ease delays at the nation's fifth most-delayed airport. They say it would reduce back-ups by 30 percent.
Massport officials say stiff winds from the northwest often reduce the number of runways planes can use for takeoffs and landings. The new runway, Massport says, will allow Logan to operate at normal capacity during such weather. But opponents fear the new strip will lead to bigger planes and more air traffic over their communities -- a contention Massport denies.
In Massport's corner are many business groups in Massachusetts who say a new runway is desperately needed to keep the Bay State's economy competitive. "We are certainly hopeful the suit will end favorably, in order to allow Massport to proceed with construction," said Brian Gilmore, executive vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an employers' trade group representing 6,400-Bay State companies. "Air traffic conditions, and the further development of the region's economy, depend so much on international travel," Gilmore said.
Business took heart in the portion of Botsford's ruling that left the door open. "My conclusion that Massport is not entitled to [a lifting of the injunction] certainly does not signify a determination that Massport is not entitled to a modification of the . . . injunction in light of changed circumstances," Botsford wrote. "As Massport has stressed . . . the injunction expressly contemplated the possibility of future modifications or amendments if continued enforcement were found to be no longer equitable."
The proposed runway must also win approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, a decision FAA Administrator Jane Garvey has promised to make before she leaves office in early August.
Source: Boston Herald