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This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

Runway plan clears key hurdle
Opponents vow to challenge Logan project

By Matthew Brelis, Globe Staff, 6/16/2001

Logan International Airport's disputed 5,000-foot runway - nearly 30 years in the making - received a crucial stamp of approval yesterday from Robert Durand, state secretary of environmental affairs, even as opponents vowed to fight on.

Durand's decision, which effectively ends state environmental review, is contained in a 19-page Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act certificate. He found that the Massachusetts Port Authority's environmental impact report on the project was adequate, but he insisted that Logan institute a demand management program, such as peak period pricing, to reduce delays at the airport and not simply rely on the new runway to improve on-time performance of airlines.

If Massport, which owns and operates Logan, has its way, the new runway could be built as soon as 2003, and a demand management program, by which the airport will manage how many and when planes will use the runways, may not be instituted until 2006 or 2007.

''This is good news for the people of New England who use Logan Airport,'' said Jason Kauppi, press secretary for Acting Governor Jane M. Swift, a runway proponent. ''We have moved a step closer to building a new runway to reduce delays and noise, and we look forward to federal officials making the next move.''

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a runway opponent, said the decision ''allows the fox - Massport - to guard the henhouse. Durand jammed it to the public. When the government takes the role of not listening to the neighborhoods, you've got real problems.''

Anastasia Lyman, a member of Communities Against Runway Expansion, said a court challenge would be forthcoming. ''Durand failed to see how deeply flawed the report is, and if he can't, maybe a court can,'' she said.

The same document that Durand approved is being reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Massport will submit a final report to the FAA later this summer, and the FAA could then rule on the project no sooner than 30 days after the final report is filed. Opponents, like attorney William Golden, representing several municipalities, said the FAA may still turn down the project.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, a Massachusetts Democrat, found Massport's draft enviromental impact report inadequate more than a year ago and recommended a panel of runway opponents and proponents meet to study the project. That panel concluded its work last year. Given the national climate in which runway construction is being promoted to alleviate delays plaguing commercial aviation, and pressure from politicians to accelerate the environmental review process, the FAA may be hard-pressed to reject the runway.

Even so, Massport must still go to state court to lift an injunction, dating back to the 1970s, that prohibits construction of runways.

Massport executive director Virginia Buckingham said the agency would move quickly to get the case heard because ''the injunction was based on Massport not going through the MEPA process, and we feel this approval has now satisfied that issue.''

Massport's board is scheduled to meet Monday in a special meeting to begin spelling out the mitigation needed to comply with Durand's ruling.

Perhaps the most complex of those is the need for a demand management program such as peak-period pricing to reduce delays, which Durand said was necessary. Indeed, the report notes adding peak pricing to the runway would result in a reduction of 44,000 hours of delay, worth $49 million. Peak pricing programs tend to reduce traffic because landing fees are increased when demand exceeds capacity.

Federal officials are considering peak pricing, auctions, and other proposals at New York's LaGuardia Airport, which is severely over-scheduled, in order to reduce delays.

Durand clearly wants Massport to avoid a similar situation, saying in the certificate, ''I am concerned that the proposed arrangement may lead to a PPP [Peak Period Pricing] program that is implemented too late and under conditions too uncertain to avoid unnecessary delays and unnecessary impacts.

''Therefore, in its Section 61 finding [the legal mitigation requirements the board will begin addressing Monday], Massport needs to commit to putting in place as a project element an enforceable PPP program (or an alternative demand management program with comparable effectiveness). Setting out clear rules well in advance will allow airlines to predict with certainty the costs of these scheduling decisions, and modify their behavior accordingly.''

In its environmental report, Massport looked at implementing peak period pricing when there were more than 110 takeoffs or landings each hour for three consecutive hours, but officials have said the airport can handle 115 to 120 airplanes an hour without exceeding capacity, and the FAA's recent benchmark capacity study found Logan can operate at 118 to 126 flights an hour.

Yesterday, neither Buckingham nor Thomas Kinton, Massport's aviation director, would say at what point a demand management program would be instituted. Buckingham said what happens at LaGuardia will be important to examine before Logan commits to a type of program. And Kinton said that yearly operations (takeoffs or landings) at Logan have dropped in the last two years, going from 507,000 in 1998 to 478,000 last year.

Despite that, both said they were committed to instituting a program, but the complexity of the issue required careful study.

''There is a school of thought that demand management is a slam dunk, and it isn't.'' said Kinton. ''We have never been shy about saying peak period pricing will be a tool to be used to deal with delays, but so is a runway.''

Besides demand management, Durand said Massport must continue to adhere to its program to cap smog precursors like nitrogen oxide emissions at 1999 levels. The program is the first of its kind in the nation and would use higher landing fees charged airlines to purchase clean fuel grabage trucks and school buses to be used in areas around the airport. Also, Durand said airlines should be required to taxi with one engine operating and airline vehicles on the airport should be powered by electricity or natural gas.

While runway opponents uniformly blasted Durand for his ruling, saying it ignored issues such as whether the runway would increase airport demand and permitted Massport to separate out the runway from other airport improvements like new terminals, it also received praise from some environmental groups.

''The state has set the environmental gold standard for airport expansion,'' said Jason Grumet, executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management. ''Airports are one of the largest, and last unchecked, air pollution sources in the country, and what the state has essentially done is taken the most successful concepts of pollution controls of the last 30 years and applied them at an airport. Key among them is capping total pollution emissions and applying market mechanisms to encourage compliance.''

Durand said the runway should not be limited to use during northwest wind conditions, when the airport is delayed. But Massport must also rework the so-called preferential runway advisory system with community members. The certificate also requires that the runway must be unidirectional with planes landing over water and taking off over water.

Matthew Brelis can be reached by e-mail at brelis@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/16/2001.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.


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