WETHERSFIELD - A bipartisan Town Council resolution is calling for regulatory entities to hold off on permitting for an early stage tree removal plan presented last week by consultants representing the Connecticut Airport Authority, (CAA) which has been prompted by an Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety report to clear penetration into runway approach air space around Wethersfield and Hartford.
The scope of the work would encompass 40 acres of land stretching from Hartford to parts of Wethersfield.
The resolution-authored by Democratic Mayor Paul Montinieri and Republican Minority Leader Mike Rell-calls for a more collaborative process between CAA and residents and officials of both towns, while acknowledging the safety concern posed by consultants who spoke before a sizable crowd in Council Chambers January 12.
“The Council does understand there are FAA requirements in safety however any movement on this needs to be more properly vetted,” Montinieri said during Tuesday’s meeting. “The facts need to be corrected, and public hearings need to be provided.”
During the meeting-which featured a lengthy open ended question portion-residents and officials of both towns alike expressed concerns regarding environmental impact, noise pollution, and whether or not taking any action would be overly preemptive given uncertainties as to whether the city-with its controlling stake-will ultimately opt for a new direction for the site.
The airport-a tax exempt entity-is worth around $1.6 million in yearly tax revenue.
Hartford residents, environmental advocates, and even government officials-such as Mayor Luke Bronin-said that the meeting could have been better publicized, particularly to members of their community.
“I think the city of Hartford should have known more about it and voice their concerns prior to that night’s meeting,” Rell said. “I believe a full vetting of the selective tree clearing is in order.”
Rell called for a joint public hearing to be held for residents of Wethersfield, Hartford, East Hartford, and Glastonbury.
Meanwhile, CAA consultants have laid out what is referred to as a “modified” approach-said to be the middle ground between going for full blown removal and doing nothing-characterized by what is known as “selective thinning”.
Essentially, approach space areas will be targeted for the removal of overgrown of “mature” trees, with the work to take place-to varying degrees-to clear the penetration leading to the site’s three runways.
But one meeting goer-Hartford Tree Advisory Commission Chair Jack Hale-calculated an impact estimate of 26,000 trees using an iTree software app.
Consultants said that the process is only in its infancy-with CAA needing the greenlight from both the NEPA and the CEPA to proceed with design, review, and property easements-and that the plan is to hold additional public meetings, including full hearings in Hartford.
A 2012 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) study deeming the tree penetration a hazard prompted CAA’s pursuit of a remedy, and doing nothing about it “is not an option”, consultants said.
But pilots could avoid the tree penetration areas altogether if they were to route their pre-landing paths away from airspace over heavily residential areas-as suggested by airport guidelines-said State Representative Tony Guerrera during the meeting.
Consultants said that CAA-if it proceeds with the work-would have to shape the work scope and methodology around still to be assessed environmental factor such as the presence of endangered bird and other wildlife species, as well as potential impact to wetlands.