Mitchell Reviews Bedford’s Many Issues with Hanscom Hangars Plan

July 20, 2023

Bedford officials and residents have articulated a multitude of concerns about the proposed massive hangar development on the perimeter of Hanscom Field near Hartwell Road.

Select Board member Emily Mitchell outlined those issues at Tuesday’s virtual meeting of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission (HFAC). They were initially presented in detail as part of the state-mandated environmental review process earlier this year.

“It’s hard to be more specific at this point,” Mitchell said, especially concerning necessary permits and infrastructure changes.

The project is not expected to return to the spotlight until the fall, as the developers are preparing a draft environmental impact statement, required by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. 

A detailed “scope” specifies the content of the impact report, and much of the focus is in response to hundreds of comments submitted in response to the initial environmental notification form. 

The project consists of almost 500,000 square feet of hangars, of which more than 80 percent would be new construction on Massachusetts Port Authority land off Hartwell Road, called North Airfield. Renovation of the adjacent Navy hangar would add another 87,000 square feet of storage. Developers are two limited-liability companies, formed specifically in response to Massport’s request for proposals.  

Chris Eliot of Lincoln, HFAC chair, scheduled a monthly series of discussions on specific issues related to the proposed expansion. One of the topics scheduled for Tuesday was the impact on Bedford. 

Mitchell, the Select Board’s HFAC liaison for more than three years, presented the categories of concern on slides that one commission member called “succinct:”

  • Ground traffic, both during construction and ongoing, “especially with the geography of Hartwell Road.” Mitchell said the board requested a traffic impact study, focusing particularly on the intersections at the two ends of Hartwell, with daily average and peak-hours counts. The officials also called for consideration of improvements to Hartwell Road, perhaps adding sidewalks and a bicycle lane. Another priority is an “internal service road” so truck traffic would have an alternative to local streets.
  • Utilities. Mitchell said the developers need to consult with the Department of Public Works to identify additions needed to accommodate increased water and sewer demand. Capacity of existing electrical substations may also require an upgrade, she said, especially when considering the addition of electric airplanes.
  • Ground noise. Movement of aircraft to and from hangars along taxiways is a concern. 
  • Storm water management. The town’s regulations are more stringent than the state’s, Mitchell said.
  • Water issues, such as drainage into waterways, wetlands and aquifer protection, and changes in the water table. The town requested a wetlands survey. The impact on the nearby Hartwell Farms neighborhood is of special concern, Mitchell said.
  • Fuel storage. Mitchell said it isn’t clear if fuel storage is planned for the site. But if it is, the developers must explain how it will protect groundwater as well as prevent surface waste. There is particular concern about the chemicals known as PFAS and PFOAs.
  • Air quality. This category includes exhaust from idling aircraft, dust, and other particles emitting during construction and beyond. Lead emissions are a major concern, and those aren’t tested at Hanscom, she noted.

Other concerns include the effects on wildlife, the impact of heat on acres of new pavement and rooftops, and the responsibilities of respective departments.

After a resident mentioned the impact of additional greenhouse gases on Bedford’s climate action plan, Mitchell said that is a valid additional concern. A regional coalition of environmental and social-action agencies is basing its opposition to the entire expansion on the impact of additional private jets on greenhouse gases.

Asked if the developers would be expected to pay for infrastructure upgrades, Mitchell said that would be subject to negotiations, but “we certainly hope so.”

Mitchell acknowledged that “many folks in Bedford would prefer we say absolutely no.” One resident, Pamela Nelson, said at Tuesday’s meeting that “there is enormous opposition to this project across multiple geographies including Bedford. We’ve heard enough to know that we don’t want this project.”

Also on the agenda was the projected impact on nearby historical sites.

Katie Winchell of Lincoln, project director for Concord-based Save Our Heritage, said officials at Minute Man National Historical Park are worried “not only about increased noise which makes their programs much more difficult, but also increased ground traffic along the Battle Road,” particularly fuel trucks.

Meanwhile, officials at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge say the project “would overlap species ranges.” Winchell said the range of the project will trigger reviews under the National Environmental Protection Act as well as by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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