Commission to Scrutinize Individual Aspects of Hangar Proposal

March 23, 2023
“Proposed Condition Site Plan” from the Environmental Notification Form for L.G. Hanscom Field North Airfield Development, created by engineering firm VHB. Courtesy Image.

The Hanscom Field Advisory Commission will be addressing individual issues engendered by plans for almost 500,000 square feet of new and renovated hangar space off Hartwell Road.

“Since there’s a lot of community interest in this project, I think we should spend the next few months dividing it into smaller topics and focus on a single topic each month,” said Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln. 

No interaction with the developers is expected during that period, as they are preparing a mandatory environmental impact report. A detailed set of requirements has been issued by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office; on Tuesday Eliot applauded that document, noting that it incorporated hundreds of public comments.

Two limited liability companies, in response to a request for proposals from the Massachusetts Port Authority, want to erect 27 new hangars and restore the 55-year-old Navy hangar for a total of 495,000 square feet. Opposition has been registered by constituencies ranging from state Sen. Mike Barrett and the Save Our Heritage advocacy group to Mothers Out Front, Lincoln chapter, and residents of Hartwell Farms, the closest Bedford neighborhood to the site.

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Select Board member Emily Mitchell, Bedford’s representative on the commission, told the meeting, “In the immediate near term, we are not going to hear a lot. Our work is in understanding deeply the issues that have been raised and we want to have answers. But there will be no back and forth.”

Commission members agreed that the first item would be the so-called “ferry flights,” in which jet aircraft deliver passengers to Hanscom but have to fly to another airport for overnight storage because of a lack of hangar space. The proponents of the hangar project said they are building to meet this need, and the MEPA document calls for statistical justification.

Eliot acknowledged, “I don’t think there is data available, but we still can discuss what we know and what questions we have about it.”

Amber Goodspeed, director of airport administration, said “the project team is going to examine that specifically” for the impact report. She added that there is precedent at Hanscom for a reduction in total flight operations following the opening of additional hangars.

“Do you think you could bring the data that you do have to the next meeting?” asked Eliot. Goodspeed referred to statistics in annual reports that validated her point. “Could you do anything to make it easier to digest?” requested Elliot.

Member Thomas Hirsch, a Bedford resident who represents pilots on the commission, pointed out that there are a lot of variables – particularly over the past few years – besides hangar space that influence the number of operations.

Eliot said he will draft a list of other topics to be addressed. Hirsch agreed to review them before the next meeting.

There was also a disagreement between Kati Winchell of Save Our Heritage and Goodspeed. Winchell pointed out that, as reported in Massport Board of Directors minutes, a taxiway will be upgraded near the North Airfield that will accommodate significantly larger aircraft. 

Goodspeed replied that any such upgrade is not part of the current proposal, and “if we decide to do this, we always preview with this commission first.”

More than 50 names were on the Zoom screens at Tuesday’s meeting. Bedford resident Pamela Nelson said that, from the perspective of forestalling climate change and air contamination, “to propose an expansion of this magnitude is profoundly irresponsible.” Hanscom Field already fulfills its mission as currently configured, she said.

“We are not necessarily supporting the idea of this project. But this commission doesn’t make the decision,” replied Eliot, who was elected to his fifth one-year term as chair Tuesday. “The purpose of this commission is to get information back and forth to people.”

Eliot also announced, “It turns out there’s a connection between one of the proponents of this project and the Silicon Valley Bank. “I don’t have any knowledge as to whether that would have any impact.” There was no response to that statement.

He was referring to Jeffrey Leerink, one of the principals of Runway Realty Ventures and North Airfield Ventures. Leerink is CEO of SVB Securities, which, like the failed Silicon Valley Bank, is under the corporate umbrella of SVB Financial Group.

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