Anna West Winter, executive director of Save Our Heritage. Photo by Laurie O'Neill

Hanscom expansion opponents hope endangered designation blocks project

 By Laurie O’NeillCorrespondent

What happens next?

That’s what people want to know now that The National Trust has named Minute Man National Historical Park, Walden Woods/Pond, and other nearby landmarks to its list of the country’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. 

The answer to the question is that, for now, it’s a waiting game. 

The Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) is reviewing a draft Environmental Report (DEIR) submitted by the project’s proponents. The draft report includes information on public health and fossil fuel emissions. 

The deadline for public comments on the DEIR has been extended to June 14. 

Select Board member Terri Ackerman said the board sent a letter to MEPA on April 29 to comment on the DEIR. 

Ackerman is a Concord representative on the Hanscom Area Town Select Boards (HATS), an alliance of the towns of Concord, Bedford, Lexington, and Lincoln. HATS addresses issues related to growth and development management policies as outlined in Massachusetts General Law. 

The Select Board’s letter says Concord, neighboring towns, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have been “diligently working, separately and together, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We have been making significant progress toward our 2030 reduction targets.” 

The expansion of storage, fueling, and maintenance capability “all point to a likely increase in the number of flights,” says the letter, which notes that “Concord residents are “deeply concerned” about the project. The letter goes on to comment on the proposal point by point. 

In an email, Ackerman pointed out the last paragraph in the letter, which reads that the DEIR “has serious flaws and omissions that need to be corrected.” The proposal, the letter continues, “directly undermines our Town’s and State’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses. It would also increase health risk, noise, and other environmental concerns while providing little or no benefit to the general public.” 

The Select Board “strongly recommends a revised DEIR, followed by careful and complete study, before a decision is made on whether or not to approve this project.” 

Actor and activist Ashley Judd at The Old Manse on May 1. Photo by Laurie O’Neill

Assessing impact

Asked to comment on last week’s Endangered Historic Places designation, Danielle Burney, deputy communications director for the executive office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, wrote in an email: “The MEPA office is carefully reviewing the environmental impacts of this proposal and will consider all public comments and studies received on the Draft Environmental Impact Report filing currently under review.”

Massport spokesperson Jennifer Mehigan said via email that “Massport recognizes the historical significance of the Minute Man National Historic Park and we work closely with all our neighboring communities to reduce our operational impact.”

MEPA is to decide if the proposal is adequate. It can accept it, ask for it to be revised, or tell the proponents to start over. 

Only if the DEIR is accepted will it become an EIR, which would serve as a foundation for various permits and exemptions. 

The agency cannot reject a proposal outright but can require that impacts be disclosed accurately. It could state that the proposal is unwise because it is incompatible with state environmental plans, local opponents say. 

Strong Bear Medicine and Save our Heritage President Neil Rasmussen at the May 1 announcement. Photo by Laurie O’Neill

Local voices

Local organizations are speaking out after the Trust announcement. 

“Our state government can and must stop this damaging project, which has absolutely no legitimate purpose,” Save Our Heritage President Neil Rasmussen said after the May 1 Trust announcement. 

The proposal states that the project would be net zero, but Save Our Heritage, on its website, disputes the claim. The group also says a possible large solar installation would only cancel a small percentage of potential greenhouse gas emissions. 

Opponents believe Governor Maura Healey, who is reportedly appointing people to Massport, including an executive director, has leverage and could stop the proposal behind the scenes. 

A request for comment from the governor’s office was unanswered as of press time. 

Betsy Merritt, deputy general counsel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Photo by Laurie O’Neill

Vulnerability concerns

The proposal, which includes the addition of 27 hangars for private jets, “threatens to significantly increase private aviation activity over historic and natural landscapes,” said Betsy Merritt, the Trust’s deputy general counsel, who made the announcement at The Old Manse on May 1. 

The Trust included in one listing Minute Man National Historical Park, Walden Woods/Pond, the Robbins House, Emerson House, Orchard House, Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, the Wayside, Thoreau Farm, and The Old Manse as being vulnerable to the proposed airfield development.  

The Endangered Places list is a “powerful and galvanizing tool for historic preservation,” according to the Trust. It says that of the more than 350 sites included in 38 years of the list, only a handful have been lost. Opponents of the expansion hope the listing of these “irreplaceable” sites will help their cause.

Speakers at the May 1 event included actor and activist Ashley Judd; Strong Bear Medicine, sagamore of the Nashobah Praying Indians; and State Rep. Simon Cataldo (D-Concord). They asked communities to express their concern about the project to the governor and to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.