As interest in Hanscom Field’s North Airfield development grows, Lexingtonians have added their voices to a growing chorus of concerns and objections to the project. More than 350 letters from legislators, local officials, and resident and community groups from across the region were submitted to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office (MEPA) ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline. State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-3rd Middlesex) and State Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-4th Middlesex) sent a letter co-signed by 30 residents and officials from Bedford, Concord, Lexington and Lincoln, and State Reps. Michelle Ciccolo (D-15th Middlesex) and Ken Gordon (D-21st Middlesex) each independently sent letters. Included in the signatories to Barrett and Friedman’s letter were Lexington Select Board members Joe Pato and Mark Sandeen, as well as residents representing Lexington Climate Action Network (LexCAN), the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission and Sustainable Lexington.
The letters were published as part of MEPA’s Certificate on the development’s Environmental Notification Form, which was released Tuesday, Feb. 28.
The concerns raised in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) response ranged from environmental, such as noise and air pollution, to specific community concerns, like Massport’s use of a land swap with the developer to complete this deal.
Lexington resident and Town Meeting Member Wendy Reasenberg asserted in an email comment on Feb. 13 that the North Airfield Plan, “ignores the prospective negative impact on the communities surrounding Hansom Field. These are our country’s most sacred historic areas with important history that existed almost 200 years before Hanscom was built.’’
Gail O’Keefe, another Lexington resident, suggested in an email to MEPA on Feb. 8 that there would be “political fallout of a Massport land swap, at a time when Massport is purportedly working with community neighbors.” Connecting the politics to her environmental concerns, she added, “This swap is not for the benefit of surrounding communities, the only people who stand to benefit are the very few who use private jets while the rest of us are driving a Prius to cut our fossil fuel usage.”
In a second email to MEPA on Feb. 13, O’Keefe noted, “The original placement of Hanscom, from the mid-1900s, was problematic, set in the midst of an important historic area, and ironically backing up to [Henry David] Thoreau’s birthplace.” She continued, though, saying, “my opposition is from the perspective of the future. The ‘greenwashing’ of this project is particularly egregious. To claim that there will be an environmental benefit by reducing ‘ferry flights’ is absurd, as the convenience and financial cost to the CEOs getting ‘ferried’ will be reduced.”
Former Planning Board member and current Town Meeting Member Richard Canale argued that “The proponents failed to respond to key questions raised by participants at [the Feb. 6 public meeting]. They said they will provide responses later in the process.” He also took issue with the timing of the public review process, saying “[T]he proponents’ consultants indicated they would issue a draft EIR for public review in June with the expectation that the comment period would be limited to July/August when public review is most difficult. It seems that the proponents wish to severely limit the public process.” He urged that MEPA “ensure that the public review period for the Draft EIR include a few weeks outside of July/August.”
Save our Heritage, a Concord-based nonprofit organization formed to preserve landmarks and quality of life around historic areas, has posted a page of links to letters submitted by local government officials, towns and organizations.
Project Likely to Move Forward Despite Objections
Former Lexington resident Ira Goldman, who currently serves as the Town of Concord’s representative on the Massport Community Advisory Committee (MCAC), submitted a Feb. 13 email as an individual and not in an official capacity. He stated that he “is vehemently opposed to this project” and called for it to be stopped completely. “This project should be terminated and, in addition, all current flight operations at Hanscom should be severely curtailed and reduced.”
However, Sens. Barrett and Friedman’s letter acknowledged the unlikelihood of stopping the entire project, saying “We don’t propose to move private jet traffic elsewhere. We know it will continue to be located at Hanscom.”
And in fact, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Rebecca L. Tepper, noted in MEPA’s Certificate on the Environmental Notification Form, “MEPA is not a permitting process and I do not have the authority to approve or deny a project.”
MEPA Response and Recommendations
At the top of the certificate, which with the project Scope document and the letters runs to more than 500 pages, Sec. Tepper noted, “I hereby determine that this project requires the preparation of a mandatory Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR)” (emphasis in original).
MEPA’s process calls for public review that “requires project proponents to fully describe proposed activities, disclose their environmental and public health impacts, review alternatives and identify mitigation measures for unavoidable impacts.” Further, MEPA will “assist other agencies in … applying all feasible means to avoid Damage to the Environment or, to the extent Damage to the Environment cannot be avoided, to minimize and mitigate Damage to the Environment to the maximum extent practicable.”
After consulting with relevant agencies and reviewing the project’s Environmental Notification Form and the letters, Tepper wrote, “MEPA requires project proponents to fully describe proposed activities, disclose their environmental and public health impacts, review alternatives and identify mitigation measures for unavoidable impacts.
The project’s Scope “should demonstrate that the Proponent will pursue all feasible measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate Damage to the Environment to the maximum extent feasible.”
Areas of specific concern to be addressed through the Scope include sections that focus on Project Description and Permitting; Activity Levels and Ferry; Alternatives Analysis; Environmental Justice including Community Engagement and an extensive Baseline Health Assessment; Public Health; Land Alteration; Stormwater Management; Traffic and Transportation; Rare Species; Water and Wastewater; Noise; Air Quality; Climate Change, including Adaptation and Resiliency, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Stationary Sources and Mobile Sources; Hazardous Waste; Cultural Resources and Open Space; Construction Period; Mitigation and Draft Section 61 Findings; and Responses to Comments.
The next Hanscom Field Advisory Commission meeting will take place via Zoom on March 21. The public is invited. As noted above, the next phase of public comment on the Scope document will be sometime in July and August.