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This story ran on page 01 of the Boston Globe on 4/19/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.


Sonic boom swells over runway plan
Foes say Logan project will hurt waterfront development

By Richard Kindleberger, Globe Staff, 4/19/2001

Armed with new information, foes of a runway proposed for Logan International Airport are depicting the 5,000-foot strip as a dagger aimed at the heart of South Boston's promising waterfront development district.

By flooding the waterfront with the roar of jets flying low overhead, the critics argue, the runway would discourage the development of thousands of new residences seen as crucial to fostering a thriving, 24-hour commercial-residential district.

The result would be a disaster for the area, according to Anastasia Lyman of Jamaica Plain, a leading runway opponent. ''I just see it becoming an environmental slum because of the noise,'' she said. ''People are not going to want to go there.''

That's one view. But the Massachusetts Port Authority, Logan's manager and champion of the runway, was quick to rebut it by offering some context not volunteered by the critics.

The runway would make the South Boston Waterfront noisier in 2015 than it would be if the runway is not built, said Betty Desrosiers, Massport's director of aviation planning and development. But she said noise on the waterfront would be about as high in that year with a new runway as it is today without one.

The issue is expected to be aired at a hearing Wednesday on the environmental impacts. If the debate sounds like semantics more than substance, it is still important to an area touted as the city's future.

Boosters predict that with its waterfront setting enlivened by the right mix of uses, the district could one day rival the Back Bay for commercial activity and general appeal.

Several developers, perhaps wary of undermining their plans for the area, did not respond to messages asking for comment on whether airplane noise threatened the waterfront's success. Two who did comment offered opposing views.

Stephen R. Karp, chairman of New England Development, said he was concerned enough at learning of the noise implications of the proposed runway several weeks ago to ask a consultant to investigate. While he had not yet heard the results, he said excessive noise in the area could undermine the appeal of housing there. The $400 million hotel-office complex Karp plans on Pier 4 would include 200 residences.

Jerome Rappaport Jr., whose New Boston Fund Inc. competed unsuccessfully for two waterfront development opportunities in the past six months, scoffed at the worry. He said he would not have pursued the opportunity to develop an office building on Massport's Parcel F or an apartment complex on D Street if he thought noise would be a problem.

Rappaport said the activity of airplanes overhead and boats in the inner harbor make it an interesting place to live and visit. Sound-proofing and other technologies ''will render the noise meaningless, and there's already a significant amount of `quiet' noise or background noise in the area,'' he said.

The fear of noise discouraging the waterfront's development was mentioned by foes two years ago at a hearing on the draft environmental impact report prepared for the project. But a stronger buzz began after a supplemental report released last month carried a map showing the Federal Aviation Administration's highest noise category, an average 65 decibels, pushing into South Boston if the runway is built.

The FAA, holding noise that averages above that level to be objectionable in a residential area, offers funds for sound-proofing to homeowners in affected areas. Parts of East Boston, Revere, and Winthrop, as well as South Boston, currently average over 65 decibels.

The map released last month shows the 65-decibel area projected for 2015 stopping short of the South Boston Waterfront without the proposed runway. But a red line showing the noise contour that year if the runway is built would include Pier 4, a large part of the $800 million convention center, now under construction, and its attached hotel. The line also takes in the World Trade Center and Parcel F and adjacent sites where Joseph Fallon plans a hotel and 490 apartments.

Massport's new runway, running roughly parallel to the South Boston Waterfront and directly across the water from it, would not impact the district directly. But by serving smaller planes, it would free up Runway 27-9 for much heavier use by large aircraft on takeoff. That runway sends planes over the South Boston Waterfront and is the reason the FAA has voiced concern about the height of buildings planned as part of the $1 billion complex slated for Fan Pier, just west of Pier 4.

Even though the new runway would permit tripling annual jet takeoffs on 27-9 in 2015 from the number in 1999, Massport planners anticipate the use of newer, quieter aircraft will prevent the noise level from increasing. In fact, a map filed by Massport with the state last December showed the 65-decibel contour for 1999 reaching twice as deep inside South Boston than is projected for 2015 if the runway is built, and with only a third as many takeoffs in that direction.

But a source knowledgeable about the issue, who declined to be identified, said airplane noise still has the potential to disrupt plans for waterfront residential community. Upgraded fleets will continue to make airplanes quieter, he explained. If the runway opens three or four years from now, prompting flights and noise to spike back up over South Boston as new condos and apartments go on the market, ''everybody's going to go nuts.'' The fact that it's no noisier than in 2000 will not matter.

Fred Salvucci, a former Massport director and transportation secretary, called the South Boston Waterfront ''an economic development opportunity that no other city in the country has.'' And with the new runway, he added, ''We're about to blow it. It's incredible - 65-decibel noise.''

Massport spokesman Jose Juves said the runway is crucial to reducing delays faced by conventioneers and other visitors. With that in mind, he saw it as odd to criticize the runway based on economics.

The hearing Wednesday on the environmental impact of the proposed runway is being sponsored by the FAA and the state's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. Meetings will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel in Boston.

Richard Kindleberger can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page 01 of the Boston Globe on 4/19/2001.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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