News Article - September 21, 2008

By: John M. Roman,

  TINICUM - A David vs. Goliath battle is looming if Philadelphia International Airport - owned and operated by the City of Philadelphia - receives the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration to acquire 82 homes and businesses in the Lester section of the township, as well as the Henderson Tract for airport expansion. When this acquisition or demolition is projected to occur is in limbo and the two runway expansion alternatives would take 12 years to build, officials said. Overall, the latter would allow a fifth runway to be built in addition to the extension of present runways.

  Although one of two alternatives had been announced by airport Aviation Director Charles Isdell in April 2004 to relocate the UPS air-freight facility onto the vacant 130-acre Henderson Tract, there was no mention of any residential homes and businesses in Lester being acquired as part of its proposed Capacity Enhancement Program. However, in mid-June, township commissioners said they learned about the city's intention to acquire about 82 properties, including 72 residences, within the township while discussing a new airport agreement with Philadelphia. About 70 percent of the airport is located in Tinicum.

  At that time, commissioners released a statement saying they "... will take all reasonable and necessary action to prevent the annexation of Tinicum Township by the City of Philadelphia." The issue was raised again after the FAA held an informational meeting Sept. 8 in the Tinicum School regarding the airport expansion plan, for which a draft environmental impact statement is being prepared to evaluate the potential effects of the program.

  A proposal was shown acquiring 72 homes and 10 businesses in the Second Ward, east of Fourth Avenue, between Seminole and Iroquois streets. The city is proposing the plan to enhance airport capacity in order to accommodate current and future aviation demand in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The EIS will be available for review at the end of the month.

  The CEP should not be confused with the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Metropolitan Airspace Redesign Project first implemented in December that affects flight patterns in the region. Longtime Township Commissioner Thomas Giancristoforo Jr. said he first learned about the city's proposed long-term plan to acquire the residential/business properties in discussions with Rina Cutler, who was appointed to the newly created post of deputy mayor for transportation in January.

  Giancristoforo said the first documentation of the proposed property acquisition he saw was on charts displayed by the FAA at the Sept. 8 meeting, including one labeled "Land Acquisitions/Relocations" and "Residential Relocations - Alternatives A & B, 72 residential relocations east of Fourth Avenue." The properties east of Fourth Avenue are located in an area between Seminole and Iroquois streets, in the Second Ward.

  A third alternative on the draft EIS is for No-Action or No-Build. The economic impact of that stance would have a total cost to the region in 2025 of $688.4 million, according to the CEP. "My feeling is if we allow them (the city) to start buying up these properties, it would be the beginning of the end of Tinicum Township," Giancristoforo said.

  The 1998 airport agreement with the township, signed off on by the commissioners, indicated that starting in May 2004 the airport "no longer needed permission from the commissioners to buy property outside of the city limits - which was a big mistake," Giancristoforo said. "That was a bad move - that opened the door for them," he added. The present holdup for a new agreement "... is we want coverage as far as them buying up property ... that's really our stalemate here," Giancristoforo said. "And if they buy property here, to uphold the present (residential) zoning. And they must assure us to abide by the present zoning. "The FAA pulled a fast one on us," Giancristoforo said.

  Another hearing on the CEP is scheduled Oct. 22 from 6-9 p.m. at the Tinicum School. Commissioners President Mike Messina said, "one of the things I find extremely frustrating is that the FAA and the city continually try and split up the airspace redesign and capacity enhancement programs so one doesn't have to answer for the shortcomings of the other." Messina said the FAA and city have never been forthcoming about the proposed date of the property acquisitions. "They were always talking about the Henderson tract. It was a dog-and-pony show. "It seems to me it's predetermined to take the homes and businesses," he said. "Unfortunately, it's like a David vs. Goliath situation with both the FAA and airport," Messina said.

  Messina said the commissioners haven't been informed or been able to give any input into the airport's expansion planning process. On July 30, 2003, the FAA published in the Federal Register a notice of intent to prepare an EIS for the airport's expansion program with the city, as the operator of the airport, cooperating with the FAA in its preparation. It was identified as a major long-term airfield redevelopment project that would provide long-term relief from airport delays.

  "One of the major causes of delays at Philadelphia Airport is inadequate airfield capacity due to the configuration of the airfield," the FAA reported. The purpose of the project is to enhance airport capacity to accommodate current and future aviation demand in the Philadelphia metropolitan area during all weather conditions. Alternative A - at a cost of $5.2 billion - calls for parallel Runway 8-26 East to be extended by 2,000 feet to the west; Runway 9R-271 would be extended by 1,500 feet; and a new 9,103-foot Runway 9R-27L would be built along the Delaware River.

  More than 1 million square feet of terminal space would be added, in addition to 25-30 gates. This would result in the relocation of the airport traffic control tower, UPS, Tinicum Island Road and Island Avenue, and part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge disposal facility. Alternative B - at a cost of $5.4 billion - would extend Runway 8-26 to the east by 2,000 feet; Runway 94-27L would be extended by 1,500 feet; and a new 9,103-foot runway would be built along the river. Runway 17-35 would be eliminated. Relocations under this alternative would be the same as Alternative A. Construction would take at least 12 years. The Final EIS is expected to be published in about a year and list the FAA's preferred alternative. A Record of Decision would then be announced citing the reasons for selecting it.

  City Aviation Director Isdell on Friday afternoon said the homes adjacent to the Henderson Tract would have to be acquired if UPS is relocated because they would be too close to the airfield under federal regulations. "It would be our intention to minimize the number of homes" acquired, he said. "If we could avoid any residential impact as part of this process, we would certainly do that. "I have great respect for that (Lester) community," said Isdell, who regularly bikes there.

  "If we get permission to construct a fifth runway parallel to the river, at that point we would have to begin negotiating with UPS as to their willingness to relocate, as well as any of those homeowners," Isdell said. "An airport's job is every so many years we're required by the FAA to look at the future and forecast how many flights we're going to have and how many passengers we're going to have," Isdell said. This so-called master plan includes suggesting alternatives to the FAA "that would help us to handle the load we expect to have in the future." His job is to serve the millions of people who use the airport by making it more efficient while respecting our neighbors. "And that is a very difficult task," Isdell said. "On the other hand we have neighbors like people in Tinicum and Lester, and in Eastwick impacted by the noise," he said.

  After receiving the public's input at the draft EIS and final EIS hearings and if they reject the runway construction, "... we have to find another way. But nevertheless, we do have an obligation to come up with alternative ideas to make the airport work." Isdell pointed out that the airport doesn't have a lot of room to expand and doesn't want to have gridlock, causing delays for passengers. There also are over 3,000 Delaware County residents who work at the airport, contributing to the local economy. "We don't want to harm anybody in Lester or Tinicum," Isdell said.

Source - Delco Times