Town Submits Widespread Reactions, Recommendations on Hangar Plan

February 16, 2023
A proposed project at Hanscom Field includes the renovation of the old Navy hangar and 27 new buildings, most of them constructed on land leased from the Massachusetts Port Authority. Staff photo by Wayne Braverman

Bedford Town officials have submitted six pages of comments to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs regarding the proposed massive hangar construction project at Hanscom Field, close to Hartwell Road.

The letter, signed by the Select Board, Town Manager, and six municipal departments, addresses a broad range of issues raised by the proposal, under the general categories of infrastructure, environmental, and additional considerations, such as public outreach.

Implicit in the communication is the assumption that the project, at some level, is going to happen. The comment letter concludes, “We look forward to developing a productive relationship between the proponent and the town of Bedford as the permitting process continues.”

Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell noted that the comments are directed to the office of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act. The ensuing environmental impact report will be “a much more detailed look.”

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“There will be a response from the developer point by point,” Mitchell said. “This is the opportunity to say what we do not like and why.”

Proposed are almost 500,000 square feet of airplane hangars, including 405,000 square feet in 27 new buildings, most of them constructed on land leased from the Massachusetts Port Authority. The project also includes renovation of the 63-year-old adjacent Navy hangar, which will accommodate additional aircraft.

The MEPA process is expected to close on Feb. 24 with a certification, followed by preparation of a draft environmental impact report.

In its memorandum, the Bedford officials asserted, “Our residents will feel the greatest impact from both construction and daily operation of the new facilities.”

“In a briefing to Bedford town officials prior to the filing of the ENF, the proponent indicated that no new fuel storage was intended within the project,” the letter says. “Presenters at the information session on Feb. 6, however, indicated that on-site fuel storage was now proposed.”

Town officials said the environmental impact report “should include” details of how fuel will be stored and “the measures to be taken to ensure protection of the surface water and groundwater.”

The town requested from the developer and Massport “current data on the number of ferry flights and justification for the claim of fewer total flights due to the project.”

The town also pointed out, “Adjacent residential neighborhoods will feel increased noise impacts due to the proximity of idling aircraft, maintenance, and site operations. We urge Massport and the proponent to minimize or absorb such ground noise, whether through physical barriers, restrictions on operations, or other measures.”

Also, “prevailing winds will transport ambient fumes from fueling operations and idling aircraft exhaust into an adjacent residential neighborhood. During construction, these winds may also transport dust and other sediments.” The impact report “needs to identify mitigation measures for airborne impacts.”

Other issues presented in the Bedford comment memo included:

  • “A full traffic analysis” focused on the intersections of Hartwell and South roads and Hartwell and Concord roads, “including an evaluation of traffic signal warrants for each intersection.”
  • “If an internal service road is not available between facilities on the south and north sides  of the airfield, the resulting impact on local streets from moving people and materials around the airfield must be examined and addressed.”
  • “The town encourages assessing the feasibility of adding sidewalks and bike lanes on Hartwell Road.”
  • “Additional capacity analysis for both water and sewer demand should be performed by the town’s consultant at the proponent’s expense for the full buildout of both sites. The applicant team should also explore potential electric supply/capacity issues.”
  • “We are concerned that additional stormwater could end up in Bedford’s neighborhoods, wetlands, or conservation lands.”

Another comment proposes “potential changes to the layout of Hartwell Road, including possible realignment to reduce the sharp curvature of the roadway along the project boundaries.” A segment of the street is owned by the federal government, the comment notes.

The Select Board also called for air-quality “modeling” as part of potential fueling scenarios; “a wildlife impact analysis;” and a report on “the status of remaining contaminant mitigation affecting the former Navy hangar site.” 

The Hanscom Field Advisory Commission, composed of one delegate from each of the four contiguous airport towns plus representatives of neighborhood associations and airfield interest groups, met in a posted session at the site of the development simultaneous with a recent MEPA-sponsored site visit.

“We did approve the outline of the letter during the site visit. I plan to ask for a second public vote on Tuesday,” said Chair Chris Eliot of Lincoln. HFAC’s monthly meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

That comment letter also addressed several environmental concerns, from local (fuel storage near an aquifer) to global (“the overall impact of this airport on climate change is certain to be harmful”). The commission also calls for data to validate the claim that the new hangars will reduce the number of airport “ferry flights.”

HFAC concludes, “This large airport expansion is incompatible with the densely populated region. It is not expected that these harms can be mitigated in any way. Therefore, the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission joins with regional town governments and citizen groups to oppose this project.”

Eliot commented by email Thursday, “On the face of it, this project will produce a massive increase in jet traffic, noise, regional infrastructure challenges and large negative impact on climate change.” He noted that “HFAC should reflect the regional consensus and refine our position as that becomes more clear. Our position may evolve as we learn more.”

There were a few comments at Monday’s Select Board meeting on the topic. Thomas Flannery president of the homeowners’ association at Hartwell Farms, the closest residential area to the site, said “We feel that this is going to be a major impact on our little community. We hope the Select Board will help us in our efforts to get this project either reformed or eliminated.”

Richard Baughman, another Hartwell Farms resident, added, “Every owner we could get ahold of is opposed. It’s a gigantic expansion.”

Residents of Hartwell Farms, which at one time was a site of a parking lot for the adjacent Raytheon Missile Systems Division, submitted more than two pages of single-spaced comments to the MEPA office.

The questions ranged from truck routes and tree removal to air traffic and flight paths. “Has Massport or any of the developers, their consultants, or other proponents been in contact with any property owners within a five-mile radius?” the residents asked. “What step will be taken to ensure no negative impact on persons living near Hanscom Field because of the North Airfield development?”

Mitchell pointed out that the town does not have “direct control over what they do.” Regarding any required local permits, Town Manager Sarah Stanton explained that you cannot without a valid reason deny a permit, if the developer meets safety standards and code.”

Resident Patty Dahlgren called for the board to host a meeting “to help residents understand the facts of North Airfield.” Indeed, the Bedford comments to MEPA urged “the proponent to conduct proactive outreach to residents in Bedford and the other Hanscom area towns. The town is happy to coordinate with the proponents and Massport to arrange such meetings.”

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Kathryn Rifkin
February 21, 2023 9:41 am

All domestic flights in Denmark and Sweden are going electric by 2030. We can demand that all flights into Hanscom be electric only, and all vehicles on the ground doing support will also be EV, and there will be batteries instead of fuel farm.

Thomas Kenny
February 26, 2023 2:31 pm
Reply to  Kathryn Rifkin

I would be interested in seeing ant data as to, if going electric, which I support in general, has a significant reduction in aircraft noise. Although my initial feeling is a overall reduction in private jet flight is more a direction to head into.

February 17, 2023 10:45 am

The Area Towns need to appeal to the Governor to intervene.

There should also be outreach to non neighboring towns, pointing out how a proposal of this magnitude of environmental damage, mainly to serve the private jet industry, should not be allowed anywhere in our State.

Joseph R Piantedosi
February 17, 2023 8:36 am

The town needs to do much more to stop this project. For starters we need to fill the vacant HATS position with a strong leader and also form a task force to partener with Lexinton, Lincoln and Concord and our elected state leaders to stop this.

Sara Mattes
February 17, 2023 9:20 pm

In the past, HATS was comprised of Selects, Plannign Board members and Conservation Commission members-it was a powerhouse and very effective, as the towns stood shoudler to shoulder.

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