Remarks to the Eden Prairie Zero Expansion Group

SMAAC's relations with the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) since Vicki Tigwell (formerly Grunseth) was appointed Chair have been bumpy. "Our efforts to testify on noise and environmental issues, never made easy under MAC policies, are not welcomed by Ms. Tigwell," SMAAC Board Chair Jim Spensley said today. "What was reluctance to admit citizens' groups might have a different and helpful perspective has morphed into an unreasonable fear of adverse publicity. Our questions are cut-off at their meetings; our comments misreported in their Minutes; written submissions are delayed, re-cast or lost."

Spensley spoke before the Zero Growth group about the environmental implications of MAC's plans for changes at Flying Cloud Airport. Using the recent news reports that MPCA was investigating how over 40,000 gallons of fuel was "leaked" into ground water at MSP (that went unreported by MAC for many months) as an example, he said that an airport has copious quantities of dangerous and toxic substances on hand and always risks pollution. Plans for containing leaks and spills and recovering the chemicals (or cleaning up) should be rigorous in the (improvement) program.

The Speaker.
Jim Spensley is well-remembered as a Manager of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. (1982-1991, President, 1986 to 1991). In that role, Jim began to question the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s commitment to the environment. During the Dual-track Studies, the District reviewed MSP expansion plans and reported many problems with stormwater management. The District found that expansion would exacerbate flooding, wetland encroachment (loss of diversity and habitat), and ground water pollution. Unhappily, two-thirds of MSP lay in “unorganized” territory – there was no management by watershed in the other three or more drainage areas. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District’s comprehensive plan to improve water quality was regarded then, and increasingly so as expansion proceeded, a thorn in the side of MAC and MnDOT.

Remarks to the Eden Prairie Zero Expansion Group
By James R. Spensley, President
South Metro Airport Action Council
Airports Concentrate Pollution Hazards.


An airport has copious quantities of dangerous and toxic liquids and solubles on hand: such as fuels, industrial chemicals (paints, solvents, lubricants, detergents), aircraft deicing fluids (ATF), and dirty water. There is, in fact, so much opportunity for water pollution, that containing leaks and spills and recovering the chemicals (or cleaning up) must be a major part of the stormwater management plan. Flying Cloud Airport is an industrial site that receives relative high volumes of a variety of fuels and chemicals. Fuel is used for operations on-site that produce various greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Leaks and spills are often transported by run-off into storm sewers or streams, lakes or wetlands.
Aircraft are not single-source polluters.

All kinds of pollution are spread around large areas by aircraft operations. Pollutants you may think of as unrelated, such as phosphorous and nitrates from stormwater, are splashed and blown into aerosols and carried into the air by aircraft, their wake, or winds and spread over the adjacent landscape. It is very, very costly, impractically so, to increase operations without a greater than proportional increase in pollution and safety risks. (For example, fuel dumping in an emergency.) This risk standard should be kept in mind by local governments, environmental groups and agencies, and neighbors, because 1] MAC budgets are tight and they discount environmental risks and minimize facilities and staff needed for environmental protection, 2] the scope and enforcement of environmental regulation is being cut back at both State and Federal levels, and enforcement was never very stringent for State government units.

Airports are not single-risk polluters.
Flying Cloud, because of past use of wells and septic systems, present a known high risk for groundwater pollution or contamination. This is in addition to air and (surface) water pollution. Ground operations are
varied and under-supervised. [If you doubt this is true, compare the permits and inspections that would apply to a similar industrial activity not on airport property.]

The Irresponsible Governmental Unit and their Polluting Cohorts.
Over the years, with the help of Legislators who ought to have known better, MAC became its own “Watershed Management Organization” and assumed a role as the “responsible governmental unit” for environmental management at MSP Users and airport tenants’ permits, their plans and capacity for emergency response, their inspections, and any enforcement are “managed” by contract terms and funded by fees, rents, and other MAC revenue.
MAC’s own operations and construction projects are overseen by State and Federal agencies, usually without consultation with other local governments. Except for noise mitigation, environmental management budgets at MAC are decreasing as a percent of revenue.

Pollution is seen as a public relations issue, not a regulatory issue, at MAC.
Are you aware of how MAC “handled” the February 2003 fuel leaks, over 40,000 gallons of aviation fuel “gone missing” at MSP? How hard they worked to find an alternate source of well contamination around Lake Elmo? The number of times violations were so gross that MPCA or EPA “fined” MAC?

As it happened, the MAC was doing an Assessment of Environmental Effects of its long-term capital construction program this Fall. Although staff and, apparently, key Commissioners were aware of the leaks, the draft report to the EQB was silent about any problems with the underground fueling system: no mention of the MPCA investigations and enforcement activities. SMAAC sent written comments to the public hearing November 3, that the draft report claimed, but did not present any facts supporting the claim, that no project planned for the next 7 years at any airport needed worksheet attention or an impact study. Comments on the AOEE closed November 10.

Tom Meersman’s story of the fuel leaks broke November 24. The Hearing Officer’s Report of the AOEE was forwarded by the Planning and Environment Committee (undiscussed, consent agenda) December 9.
Later, I asked the Committee to re-open the hearings because of the fuel leaks, and staff said that the Commission could do that, or they could modify or append to the report, but there was no legal requirement to do so. The Hearing Officer’s Report of the AOEE as forwarded by the Planning and Environment Committee was placed on the MAC’s consent agenda for the December 20 meeting. Commissioner Williams, at my request, asked for discussion. He asked Staff if the Report was “in proper order” considering questions raised at the P&E meeting. Staff replied that the Report included SMAAC’s letter and a Commission (staff) response. The Report was approved by the MAC to be forwarded to EQB.

Later, during the public appearances item – always the last on the Agenda – I noted that the Report had not been available online and handouts were in short supply. I said the Report, as a minimum, should have noted the fuel leaks and the fact of the enforcement action, but I did not know if it did. Staff said it did not and, because of the special law that applied to MAC, need not comment on the “stipulation agreement” being negotiated with the PCA. I would have replied that “required” and “appropriate” are different concepts, but Chair Tigwell cut me off: “Write us.” she said.

On December 23, SMAAC received a copy of the Report. Attachment A thereto was our October letter inquiring about the Hearing and a staff response dated December 2. Our letter of November 3 to the Hearing Officer was missing. Our inquiries about this are so far unanswered.

SMAAC believes from the news report, some additional inquiries, and a discussion with Tom Hogan, MAC’s public relations officer, that the underground fueling system was the source of the leaks. The system failed, was damaged by nearby excavations, was improperly operated, or some combination.
Because of possible security implications, SMAAC was willing to soft-pedal our questions. But the loss or omission of comments, properly entered into the record of the hearing, is a serious matter.


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