Sunday, May 11, 2014

MERCER COUNTY RESPONDS: Bucks County group files lawsuit over Trenton-Mercer Airport (KTTN) operations

TRENTON — Mercer County officials say a lawsuit filed in federal court by a Bucks County watchdog group will not affect operations at the Trenton-Mercer Airport, nor will it hold much clout in court.

Bucks Residents for Responsible Airport Management (BRRAM), along with several Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents, filed a lawsuit in Trenton’s US District Court on Monday accusing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Mercer County and the Board of Chosen Freeholders of failing to perform a comprehensive environmental impact analysis prior to authorizing commercial operations at the Trenton Mercer Airport (TTN).

The BBRAM is asking the freeholders and the county to conduct a mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), to authorize and expand commercial scheduled passenger jet service by any and all previous carriers and authorize and expand commercial scheduled jet service by current carrier, Frontier Airlines, according to the group’s website.

“I don’t think we are out of sync with what the FAA requirements,” said County Executive Brian Hughes who confirmed that as of Wednesday none of the county officials or members of the board of freeholders had received a copy of the litigation.

“We have not increased the square footage of the terminal nor have we increased the length of the runways, so there is really no reason for us to do an EIS, which could cost hundreds of thousand’s of dollars.”

Despite the increase in commercial flights to 73 a week by Frontier Airlines, there has not been a need to increase the footprint of the terminal nor a need to bring in larger jets to the airport. According to Hughes, the current runways are long enough to allow the A319 jets, operated by the low cost carrier, to fly into and out of the airport. Also, Frontier’s superior scheduling skills has kept pedestrian traffic at the airport to a minimum, he said.

“We are compromising on the type of jet they have because it is much quiet than some of the 737’s that used to come in and out and which were almost twice as loud,” said Hughes.

“If the noise from the old Eastwind Airlines, (which used to use the Trenton Airport as their commercial hub), was in compliance how do you get an airline that is quieter to be a bigger distraction?”

Although the BRRAM and other plaintiffs say they are not seeking to close the airport but rather are asking the court to compel the FAA and the county to comply with NEPA and start an EIS review process which could curtail expansion of Frontier Airline’s passenger service until the EIS is approved — with emphasis on noise impacts and possible mitigation measures.

“I’ve been involved and very vocal about the issues surrounding the airport more than anybody because I live closest to the airport than any of the other freeholders,” said Freeholder Lucy Walters, who although she is sympathetic about the noise pollution the jets cause as they take off and land at the airport — she too agrees with the county that conducting an EIS is a bit pre-mature.

“We first need to make sure that we have a partner that will stick around before we invests so much money to make the terminal bigger or increase the size of the runway which would trigger an EIS.”

The last time an EIS was conducted at the airport, according to Walters, was during the Robert Prunetti administration and was not thorough. It eliminated essential insights such as traffic conditions on Interstate 95.

Although recent weather situations have caused Frontier carriers to fly lower, causing more noise above homes which neighbor the airport, according to Walters, the EIS will only be done if and when the administrations’ projected increase in air-travel into and out of TTN becomes a reality.

“Look they’ve included everyone on this lawsuit, from the FAA to the county to the freeholders,” said county executive Hughes. “If the FAA is out of compliance then I guess we are too.”