Closed Runway Means More Noise for Eastie Neighborhoods

Massport has announced this week the summer closure of runway 15R/33L at Boston Logan International Airport to complete a Runway Safety Area (RSA) construction project that has impacted residents and commerce in the area.

Last year’s notice specifically referenced the additional flights that would be diverted over other neighborhoods such as Orient Heights as a direct result of the project at the end of runway 15R/33L, while this year’s notice omits the traffic divergence issue. Perhaps Massport is trying gloss over the fact that last year’s significantly increased flights over Orient Heights will be repeated again this year.

During last year’s construction season, Massport was up front that, “During the closure, and depending on wind and weather conditions, other runway configurations will be used to accommodate operations at Boston Logan. As a result, residents from neighboring communities may experience an increase or decrease in the number of over flights during the project.”

Neighbors, particularly in Orient Heights, reported that there was an impact on noise quality in the neighborhood due to the project as flights were rerouted over the neighborhood during departures from Logan.

This year, Massport said only that the daily closures from May through October would be dependent of wind and weather.

The RSA improvement project, which will extend the safety area at the end of Runway 33L by 600 feet, has also had an impact on Boston Harbor Clam Diggers according to John Denehy.  In February the clammers were preparing to file a lawsuit in federal court against Massport for the taking of clam-flats off Constitution Beach due to the RSA project.

After September 11 terrorist attacks, amid airport security fears, the clammers, who have historically clammed the marshes surrounding the airport, were booted off Logan property.

For months the clammers fought for their right to continue their trade that dates back to Native American times. The State Senate in 2002 amended the Transportation Bond Bill and reopened three of the five flats closed by Massport in 2001.

Under the new clam digging guidelines, no more than 50 clam diggers are allowed within the airport security zone that encircles Logan and its runways at any one time.

The clam diggers also had to apply for registration cards, get fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.

Now, with Massport’s RSA improvement project underway, the clammers are once again in jeopardy.

Typical RSAs at the end of a runway are level areas 1,000 feet long by 500 feet wide but may be shorter in length if an Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) is installed at the runway end, a kind of gravel intended to slow down the plane’s forward motion.

Runway 33L, Logan’s longest runway is 10,081-foot runway and already has a 190-foot safety area, but that will be extended to meet the requirements set by the FAA.

This has required Massport to extend the RSA on Runway 33L by 600 feet and not the 1,000 feet usually required by the FAA because of the EMAS the Port Authority plans to use at the end of the runway. This would reduce harbor intrusion by 400 feet.

However, the clammers still feel it is catastrophic to their trade.

“These runways expansions will change the tidal flows in the harbor effecting the reproduction and development of these soft shell clams,” said Denehy. “The runway expands onto two major wetlands that provide not only clams currently harvested but a nursery of clam seed for future harvests. Massport has repeatedly ignored these concerns and has provided only sparse and unsatisfactory answers. If the Boston harbor clam flats continue to be destroyed by this expansion then the Boston Harbor clam diggers will be no more.”

Massport spokesman Phil Orlandella has said the Port Authority has conducted several public meetings regarding the RSA project and there was a 30-day comment period.

“To the best of my knowledge, the clammers did not file any comments, at least not in writing,” said Orlandella. “This is a “Must Do” project mandated by the FAA and it must be completed by 2013.  That’s two summer construction seasons.”

Denehy argues Massport has been deceptive regarding the RSA’s impact on the environment and to the ecosystem of the Boston Harbor.

“While the Boston Harbor Clam Diggers acknowledge the importance of an airport in a major city such as Boston we cannot help but feel discouraged by the process and superior tone Massport has been subscribing to,” said Denehy.

Denehy and other clammers have also accuses Massport of covering up an oil spill that decimated the clams his group digs off the end of Logan’s runways.

Denehy said that the clammers are still fighting with Massport over the alleged oil spill by Logan refueling company Swissport in October 2010.

Denehy and other New England clammers have repeatedly argued that the alleged oil spill decimated 75 percent of the whole clam beds the clammers harvest by causing a neoplasia or clam cancer.

“Upon inquiry, Massport representative Stewart Dalzell (director of environmental planning and permitting for Massport) failed to provide any confirmation or information regarding the issue,” said Denehy.

Denehy said that it was only after three months of constant complaint and questioning did Dalzell finally reveal and acknowledge the extent of the oil spill in the Boston Harbor.

Twenty clammers affected by the massive clam die-off they say was caused by the oil spill have prepared to file a lawsuit in federal court against the fueling company and Massport.

The group of New England clammers, through their lawyer, have drafted an Oil Pollution Act Letter and sent it to Massport and Swissport.

Currently there are 30 clam diggers that dig commercially around the perimeter of the airport. All of the clams harvested from Boston Harbor go through the Newburyport purification plant. The plant in Newburyport is also in jeopardy of closing if state funding is not restored.

Between the diggers, purification plant workers, biologists, truck drivers and shuckers, approximately 340 jobs would be lost due to the continued decimation of these flats.

Clammers who dig year-round can usually rake in between $50,000 to $60,000 in a year harvesting clams from the flats around Logan.

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