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Mass Executive Office of Environmental Affairs abandons towns
The following Guest Commentary appeared in the Bedford, Concord, Lexington and Lincoln papers on October 6, 2005
Commentary: MEPA decision is misinformed, biased
By Richard Canale and Julian Bussgang
With Massport's support, a company called Crosspoint has proposed building a new general aviation terminal, with hangar space, at Virginia Road in Concord, which would greatly increase the airport's fuel-guzzling corporate, private, and passenger jet traffic, introduce new, serious public safety concerns, cause more noise, and generate more vehicular traffic on the already overcrowded Battle Road.
Last week, the secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) issued a ruling that this massive project does not require an environmental impact review.
If left unchallenged, this decision would set a major precedent in allowing Massport to greatly expand jet operations with no public environmental review process and, hence, no opportunity for public input.
The citizen's group ShhAir (Safeguarding the Historical Hanscom Area's Irreplaceable Resources) had submitted a formal request to EOEA to put the project on hold until its environmental impacts were evaluated. This is precisely what the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act provides: a new aviation terminal cannot be built without a full environmental review. ShhAir's request, filed on Aug. 1, was supported by the citizen's group Save Our Heritage, the Hanscom Area Towns Committee (HATS), and the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission.
ShhAir's request should have gone out for a 30-day public comment period. Yet EOEA took two full months – until Sept. 28 – to render a decision, without setting a public comment period. This is particularly disturbing in light of two key factors apparently underlying Secretary Pritchard's ruling.
First: The Crosspoint proposal includes 13,000 square feet for passenger services (more than double the passenger area of the Hanscom Field Civil Air Terminal, which not long ago processed over 200,000 passengers per year). Massport has never publicly questioned that 13,000 square foot figure. Yet amazingly, when Massport's lawyer wrote to EOEA in response to ShhAir's request for environmental review, he suggested that “only about
2,000 square feet” would be used for passengers. A public comment period would have required Massport to explain this discrepancy publicly. It would also have exposed many other contradictions, inconsistencies, and outright misstatements in the Massport response.
Second: According to Secretary Pritchard's decision letter, he had “personal communications” with environmental officials at the Federal Aviation Administration and the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission, who both told him that they considered the Crosspoint facility to be a "hangar" and not a "terminal." (As noted above, state law requires full environmental review of a proposed new airport terminal.) There is no way to know whether their assessment was based upon Crosspoint's and Massport's public statements about the proposal or (as seems more likely) upon Massport's letter that tried to make the proposal look like something it is not.
Furthermore, a public official's decision about a matter of public concern should not depend upon private communications with other officials. Making this case even more egregious is the fact that the federal and state aviation agencies Secretary Pritchard consulted had their own reasons for wanting projects of this kind to escape environmental review and therefore were in no position to offer him disinterested advice. In short, their advice was misinformed at best and biased at worst, and there should have been a comment period to expose that advice to public review and critique.
As co-chairmen of the HATS Environmental Subcommittee, we have been deeply involved in the analysis of Crosspoint proposal and the ensuing effort to obtain environmental review. We believe we have documented that the environmental impacts and safety concerns from the Crosspoint terminal are real and warrant an environmental review. But, the MEPA public record won't include this documentation because EOEA refused to allow public comment.
In effect, Secretary Pritchard ruled in this case that a terminal is not a terminal. It seems clear from reading his decision letter that he was not properly informed of the facts of the case, and his failure to allow public comment prevented him from basing his decision on a complete public record.
The HATS Environmental Subcommittee co-chairmen have asked HATS to take appropriate steps to overturn this decision. We urge citizens to tell Gov. Mitt Romney that Secretary Pritchard has made a serious mistake and that the Crosspoint project must not be allowed to proceed without the full environmental review that it so obviously requires.
Julian Bussgang and Richard Canale are co-chairmen of the Hanscom Area Towns Environmental Subcommittee.