Randall Beach: Fear and loathing is in the air when discussing Tweed

What to do about Tweed New Haven Regional Airport? Should we expand it?

How do you balance the fears and quality of life concerns of nearby residents vs. the economic growth of the region and the travel needs of the many more people beyond that neighborhood?

This is one of the most important yet complex issues we are facing in Greater New Haven. The arguments are fraught with emotion.

When I wrote a column about this four weeks ago supporting the proposal to expand the main runway from its current 5,600 feet to 6,600 feet, I knew I would hear angry responses from people living near the airport.

Oh, yeah! I got ’em.

Marian Lucibello wrote me a long email saying she was “furious” with me. “Trying to imagine traffic congestion in our small neighborhood is mind bending. Where will everyone park?”

She said that in previous years when more airlines used Tweed, “diesel gas floated in our pools and fumes filled the air, so we were not able to sit on our decks.”

Because I had mentioned I recently discovered my two daughters can use Tweed to get here from their homes in Los Angeles (via a Philadelphia connection), Lucibello wrote: “I am pretty sure you would not have been happy seeing your girls swim in diesel-polluted pools or cry over seeing the planes coming so close to their homes.”

She also seems to think I favor the runway expansion only because “your daughters will have such an easier time coming to visit. Yay for you!” She didn’t appear to read the rest of my column, about the economic benefits to the region. I have had a family member use Tweed just one time. This is not about my own “convenience.”

And then Lucibello veered into my own East Rock neighborhood, recalling the multiple-year battle over building a Worthington Hooker Middle School on Whitney Avenue. She wrote about “a lot of huffing and puffing from East Rock residents about a school. But you think my neighborhood should put up with traffic, noise, pollution, strangers driving around our street looking for a restaurant in the middle of the night because it was easier for your daughters to come visit you.”

Well, I had to set her straight. I informed her: “We in my neighborhood fought for years to get that school built. Because of a few obstructionists (mostly on the abutting Everit Street), it took so long for us to win the fight that my kids never got a chance to be schooled in a nice building.”

Yes, I sat through many public hearings on that issue. I remember hearing one opponent warn of the “riff raff” that would be walking down their beautiful street. Today, those homes are still fetching plenty on the market and there has been no invasion of “riff raff.” You see happy kids and their parents walking to that school every weekday.

There were also some people living near me who were afraid when a “sober house” of recovering young men was set up on Whitney Avenue. Well, it has been operating there for years and fits fine into the neighborhood. I know it’s not the same as an airport but it’s another example of what you have to accept when living in a city.

Lucibello is indeed worried, even afraid. She told me that “in Tweed’s greater plan, our homes will be knocked down.” I understand her fear but I’m not convinced that’s a realistic scenario.

Donna Guido emailed me to say people bought homes near Tweed “knowing the airport was a small airport, never to become larger.” I don’t know how they could know it would never grow.

Guido recalled the big rock concerts at Yale Bowl in the 1960s and ’70s. “After awhile, they were stopped. Why? Because the Westville folks didn’t want the noise or traffic.”

I understand her argument, but again: if you live in a city, you have to be willing to put up with some elements of city life. I think people living around Yale Bowl should not have been able to stop those rock concerts. They even denied us seeing Paul McCartney!

Keith Hall, who also lives near Tweed, told me in an email he opposes “adding 300-500 cars daily on streets that were never meant for commercial use. The noise and air pollution alone would be tragic to an ecosystem that is finally getting back on track.”

Hall reported that recently “I saw a pair of bald eagles come over my house.” He added, “Let’s let well enough be. Parks, people, schools and nature would be altered in a very negative way that can never be changed back.”

Hall called on the state and city to “spend our tax money on something that’s positive for all, not just a select few who feel that traveling an hour to a major airport is an inconvenience.”

I replied to Hall that he had raised some good points. But I also told him “one could argue it is a select few who oppose airport runway expansion.” I think more than “a select few” would benefit from expanded service.

I also heard from people who support the additional service. John Cawley of Hamden recalled that in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Tweed offered flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport and several daily flights to Washington, D.C., which were used by many Yale faculty and businesspeople.

“It really is a shame that all that has stopped,” Cawley said. “Hopefully, some sort of agreement can bring some of that back.”

Perhaps the most interesting email I received on the proposed runway expansion came from a person who didn’t want me to reveal in what town she now lives or her name because “I am concerned about personal retaliation.” This again shows how emotional the issue has become.

She said she has some insight into community opposition to the runway addition. “This comes from my experience of living in the Morris Cove area for several years and also having worked for several years earlier for an airline at Dulles Airport in the D.C. area.”

“The commercial passenger jets have not seemed to be the source of the loud noise in the neighborhood,” she said. “I had noticed day in and day out that the annoying noises that could be heard in the backyard where I lived were always associated with small private planes. And that there was no noise around the landing and departure schedule of the Philadelphia passenger planes.”

She added: “I understand that the loud noises arise from these small aircraft due to maintenance issues and can be corrected.”

She concluded: “Once and for all, someone should do a directed noise study to document what these small private aircraft pilots continue to get away with in terms of noise pollution as well as stunting the public air transportation in the region. This problem is a real shame.”