FAA Picks up Legal Bill for Connecticut Airport

SEPTEMBER 12, 2008

The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to pay 95 percent of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport's legal fees to defend itself against the neighboring town of East Haven and a citizens group, the East Shore Conservation Association. The FAA mandated that Tweed install runway safety areas, and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) aproved the project in April of 2007. The town of East Haven and the citizens group appealed the DEP's decision. They are opposed to expanding the airport and fear the runway safety areas will be the first step.

The FAA's latest commitment means that the FAA has paid more than $410,000 for legal work on behalf of Tweed in 2007 and 2008, according to a recent letter from LaVerne F. Reid, manager of the FAA's New England Region Airports Division to Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Chairman Mark Volchek. The figure includes $201,063 that the FAA already has included in Tweed's 2008 airport improvement program grant request, and another $58,680 for legal work from 2007 and $150,653 for additional legal work this year that the FAA asked Tweed to include in its 2009 grant request.

"So in essence, the FAA has taken on the burden of appealing" the runway safety areas, Volchek told the airport authority this week. Afterward Volchek said, "I think it was a somewhat political decision. The FAA felt that it had to defend the project."

Tweed is suing East Haven in federal court. The airport authority says town approvals for the safety areas are unnecessary because the state DEP has already approved them. The town contends local zoning and inland wetlands agencies should take precedence.

"I think that's interesting," East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon said of the FAA's decision to pay for most of Tweed's defense. "We're still waiting for the judge's decision and we'll go from there.... I think it's an interesting development, but it doesn't really change our course of action."

Michael Criscuolo, who heads the East Shore Conservation Association, could not be reached for comment.

Part of the FAA reimbursements will help reduce Tweed's current budget shortfall, which was listed at $746,855 when the budget was passed. The authority's new budget subcommittee, led by NewAlliance Bank Executive Vice President Diane Wishnafski, has been working on ways to reduce that shortfall. On Wednesday she presented a plan to the full airport authority that would whittle it from $746,855 to $232,431, an amount just slightly smaller than the $250,000 cut the Board of Aldermen made to Tweed's annual subsidy when the budget was approved in early June. Many aldermen, in a year when the city was already cutting money for homeless shelters, wanted to eliminate Tweed's subsidy entirely. It ended up being cut from $750,000 to $500,000.

The adjustments the authority approved this week showed an additional $100,000 in FAA reimbursements, and a $205,000 decrease in legal and audit fees.

Source: New Haven Register, by Mark Zaretsky (Mark Zaretsky can be reached at or 789-5722)