Monday evening’s three-hour “consultation session” on the proposed construction of a complex of 27 hangars on the north side of Hanscom Field elicited voices in protest, as well as some new information.
One surprise was the news that there are plans for a “fuel farm” near the Navy hangar not far from Hartwell Road.
Plans call for erecting and renovating 495,000 square feet of hangar space, most of which will be Massachusetts Port Authority land, but also featuring restoration of the 63-year-old Navy hangar alongside. Construction is planned for January 2024 to June 30, 2026.
The Zoom webinar, hosted by the office of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and joined by as many as 144 devices, was a question-and-answer format, although many of the responses were deferred until the forthcoming environmental impact report.
MEPA environmental analyst Alex Strysky explained that his office undertakes a “comprehensive review of projects” that involve state agency action and exceed certain environmental review thresholds – in this case adding more than 10 acres of impervious surface. The state “action” is Massport’s arranging a land swap with the owner of the Navy hanger.
MEPA “ensures that project proponents fully disclose the impact that they identify, mitigation measures to minimize impacts, consider alternatives, and allow the public to participate at a relatively early stage before permits are issued,” Strysky said.
“This is an early concept. It will continue to be refined and modified as discussions take place with prospective tenants and public input,” Strysky said. The deadline for public comment on MEPA’s environmental notification process is Feb. 14, and each comment will receive a response, he added. Then the process continues when the owner submits a draft environmental impact report.
One of Monday evening’s questions – from Bedford Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell – was whether the aircraft in the new hangars will be fueled there, or at one of the fixed-base operators on the south and west perimeters of the airfield. Thomas Kinton, a consultant for the developer, replied that there are plans to put a “fuel farm next to the Navy hangar.”
This contradicted a statement by a Massport official at the June meeting of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission when it was noted that “ground support,” including fueling of airplanes in the new hangars, will be handled by the FBO Signature Flight Support.
State Rep. Ken Gordon, speaking before Mitchell, also addressed the issue of fuel, asking about delivery and the impact on local streets. Kinton, who is a former Massport CEO, said fuel “would be transported across the airfield to any fuel farm that may be created there.”
Gordon – and others on the call – also challenged part of the raison d’être for the project. Ken Schwartz of the consulting firm VHB, speaking for the developer, said that Massport has said that the project is intended “to meet current and future demand of corporate hangar space.
“Currently there is a wait list for corporate hangar space at Hanscom,” he said, and that results in “ferry fights,” when airplanes drop off and pick up rather than parking overnight.
“These passengers are typically employees of companies close to the airport,” Schwartz said. “All three FBOs are operating at or over capacity and have been forced to place customers seeking hangar space on wait lists. The proponent intends to meet this demand through new and renovated hangar and aviation support space.”
Gordon said, “I didn’t hear information as to how many we’re talking about and how do we know this project will address that. Is there a spreadsheet showing how many are coming in each week and how many operators are willing to house their aircraft here?”
Schwartz replied that data will be reported in the upcoming draft environmental impact report. But Gordon pointed out that “there must be some data somewhere,” since this is the basis of the project. “If it turns out to be a very small number, then that would be significant in moving forward.”
Gordon’s House colleague from Lexington, State Rep. Michelle Ciccolo, pressed the issue. She wondered how many of the new hangars are already committed and how many are speculative. “Will any be going to aircraft already operating?” she queried.
Asked by an area resident how many airplanes would be housed in the new complex, Kinton said that depends on the type. Three Lear jets fit in a 20,000-square-foot hangar, but a Gulfstream may take all of that space itself.
“Corporate jets are getting pretty large these days,” he noted; some can depart Hanscom and fly around the world.
Mitchell asked about the size of aircraft likely to use the new facilities. Kinton acknowledged that Massport “wants to make sure taxiways and taxi lanes” can support the so-called Group 4 heavier planes.
Several of the objections to the project were on environmental concerns, led by State Sen. Mike Barrett, whose district includes the four Hanscom towns. Barrett is one of the Legislature’s leading voices on climate issues.
“I’m just channeling my constituents’ general concerns. There is genuine concern about the use of private jets and corporate jets,” he stated, which are “exceedingly emissions-heavy, on any metric you might choose.
“It is striking that in the middle of our attempt as a state to deal with an existential crisis, Massport is intent on building its private jet business,” he continued. “This is premium traffic at a huge environmental cost to all of us collectively, and it’s obviously crucial to Massport’s plan for this particular airport.”
The solar panels and other energy-saving features planned for the buildings “will not negate the extraordinary emissions impact of the jet trips themselves,” he said. The issue is “hyperlocal,” he asserted, because “a Massport facility in our midst will single-handedly undo much of the progress we made” in carbon elimination.
Bob Domnitz, chair of the Lincoln Planning Board and a longtime foe of Hanscom expansion, pointed out that the airport’s 1978 master plan states that acquisition of additional land “would be considered only in instances when it essential to preclude major incompatible development.” The land swap, he said, violates that commitment. “Can Massport just ignore its own master plan whenever it chooses to do so?”
Planning Board Chair Steve Hagan asked about increasing demand on electricity and the possible need for a substation. The growth in electric airplanes “is going to provide quite a power draw. Do you need a substation in the future? We want to know estimates on power draw as you open and in the future.”
Former Lexington Planning Board Richard Canale challenged the project schedule. “You say you are going to submit a draft report in June, which leaves the summer months for public input. If you’re serious about getting public input on something this complex, you need to adjust that schedule.”
Other questions addressed the route of construction vehicles; demand on Bedford’s water and sewer systems; loss of trees to the construction; impact of emissions on public health; wetlands protection; mitigation of the impact of construction; coordination with Minute Man National Historical Park and Great Meadows National Wildlife Preserve; and the lack of aviation experience among the owners.
A questioner asked: “What’s the plan for the animals and migratory birds? Will there be another forest set up for them to live in?”
Schwartz said, “a wildlife management plan may be something we address as part of the EIR process.”
A few speakers left no doubt about their position. “There is a simple way to mitigate this impact. That is simply to not build it,” said former Lincoln Selectman Sara Mattes. Bedford resident Pam Nelson said the proposal is “a money grab at the expense of children and families. This is just unconscionable.”
A few hours before the webinar, MEPA officials hosted a site visit, including access to the exterior of the Navy hangar. Mitchell, Hagan, Planning Director Tony Fields, the legislators, members of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission, and leaders of Save Our Heritage were present.
So were several neighbors of the site, as well as Concord residents whose homes are under the approach to the runway
A handout outlined the location of the proposed hangars. However, there was no narration. Attendees looked around on their own; one of them said he encountered a group of deer.