News Article - November 14, 2008

By Alex Rose,

  In his comments to the Federal Aviation Administration this week, U.S. Rep. Joseph Sestak, D-7, of Edgmont, called a proposed Capacity Enhancement Plan at Philadelphia International Airport “a poorly planned transportation project and a waste of taxpayer funds.” There are two alternatives for the CEP, with projected costs of $5.2 billion and $5.4 billion, according to a draft environmental impact statement. One alternative would add a new runway.

   The aim is to reduce delays, but the CEP would also displace at least 72 residences and 3,300 jobs from Tinicum, including the relocation of a UPS facility, all of which would decrease the tax base for the township and the Interboro School District. County Solicitor John McBlain also drafted the county’s comments to the FAA for the record. He said the county criticized the authority’s analysis of things like air quality and noise impacts, though it was most concerned about the loss of homes and businesses. “The plan to take 70 to 80 residences and businesses in Tinicum Township — you’re really tearing out the fabric of that community down there,” he said.

   “As with the FAA’s ill-conceived airspace redesign project, acceptable alternatives to the CEP have not been considered and the true costs have not been established,” said Sestak in his comments. “Unfortunately, instead of learning from the mistakes of the airspace redesign, the CEP repeats them.” The NY/NJ/PHL Metropolitan Airspace Redesign plan was partially implemented Dec. 19, 2007, and included two new headings off Runway 27 at PHL, the northernmost of which swings over Delaware County.

   The county has joined in a federal court challenge to the redesign plan, while Sestak and U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., prompted a Government Accountability Office review of the redesign that found the FAA conducted no cost/benefit analysis before beginning implementation. Sestak said he has now learned the airspace redesign and CEP were at one time a single project, but because the redesign portion had no physical construction component that would require a thorough environmental impact study, the projects were split in 2005. Sestak called this a ploy to shoe-horn in one piece — the redesign — and then try to slip the other through later.

   The two pieces are critical to the planned delay reductions, he said, but only together. The redesign on its own would only save an average of 18 seconds on departures and 45 seconds for incoming flights. The projected per-operation delays resulting form the CEP would be 5.2 or 4.7 minutes by 2020, down form the current 19.3 minutes, according to the draft environmental impact statement. In order to proceed with the CEP, said Sestak, the airport needs to expand using the land in Tinicum. But Philadelphia, which owns the airport, cannot simply seize that land through eminent domain.

   If the county, state and township stand together in defiance, he said, they can put a stop to the not only the CEP, but also the redesign, forcing the FAA to come up with another solution. “Our efforts are to say, ‘Stop, you cannot procure this land, we want more than 18 seconds delay, go back and look at other options,’” said Sestak.

   Numerous Tinicum residents already made it quite clear to FAA officials at a public hearing on the CEP last month that they don’t want the airport to encroach any further on their township. County Council Vice Chairman Jack Whelan said at that hearing the improvements would do little to cut down wait times at the airport anyway, since 84 percent of all delays are caused by weather conditions. Whelan said he and a Tinicum official would soon be meeting with representatives of Philadelphia to determine what the city’s intentions are.

   Both Sestak and Whelan have said they want the airport to remain an engine for economic growth in the region, but that can be done without the level of intrusion and harm this plan would impose on Delco residents. McBlain said it is too early in the process for any legal recourse. The FAA drafts an environmental impact statement, invites comments, and then, in theory, could come back with a revised statement, he said. “You have to give them the opportunity to do the right thing, which is the stage where we are,” said McBlain.

   FAA spokesman Jim Peters had no comment Thursday. He said the authority would take all comments entered into the public record by the Nov. 10 cut-off date and address them in another statement, which should be ready in late 2009.

Source - Delco Times