Local Watchdog Challenges MAC On Environmental Assessments Hearings

Jim Spensley, South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC) President, reminded the Metropolitan Airports Commission of its responsibility to the public in approving the 2006 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). Spensley said that, legally and ethically, an annual staff assessment of the environmental impacts of construction projects is insufficient. The process MAC uses for environmental review of its capital projects is difficult for the public to follow, with different rules applying to State and Federal requirements.

Last year, SMAAC questioned MAC findings that environmental assessment worksheets were NOT needed for ANY capital project continuing or beginning in 2005. But their formal, written testimony was not presented to the Hearing Officer or discussed by the committee conducting the public hearing. In particular, SMAAC was concerned that fuel leaks and glycol emissions problems carried over from 2003 and 2004 were not discussed. SMAAC testimony that several planned projects represented a related safety, public health or pollution risk.

SMAAC cited projects requiring re-location or extension of the underground fueling system or excavations near it. MAC Chair Vicki Tigwell had suggested an increase in glycol emission permit limits; SMAAC noted delays in construction of new de-icing pads and glycol-recovery system and more flights using old pads during icing conditions belied the previous "no impact" assessments. MAC staff said last year that settlement negotiations were incomplete and privileged, making the fuel leaks and glycol emissions immune from public scrutiny.

Spensley said that MAC abused even the short-cut Assessment of Environmental Effects (AOEE) process. Later, Spensley told questioners that limiting public review of capital projects (to an environmental impacts hearing and brief comments to the Commission) reflected the MAC‚s lack of concern about causing problems off-site and its reluctance to reveal information about on-site problems. He said "... projects in the upcoming year potentially can cause, or might result in, adverse environmental impacts. If the staff and Commission cannot quantitatively assess these impacts in advance, the public and public agencies (cities, watershed districts, PCA, DNR, etc.) rightfully expect an EAW (Environmental Assessment Worksheet)."

Spensley continued "We hope that Commissioners will realize that the public has legitimate concerns about safety, public health, and other aspects of capital spending by MAC." He prefaced his prepared remarks by saying "I think it was wrong (in a separate action) to forward sparse plans and public comments to FAA bureaucrats to decide if an EIS (Environmental Impact Study) is needed for the MSP Development (2015) Plan rather than undertaking the more responsible role yourselves as proposed by Commissioner Boivin.


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