In a Victory for Airport Hazards Committee, Town to Re-Examine Agreement with Massport

At its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15, Council heard a presentation by Gina Cassetta, Chair of Winthrop Airport Hazards Committee (WAHC), in which she argued that Winthrop got a raw deal when it entered into a mitigation agreement with Massport regarding Logan Airport’s Terminal E expansion.

The presentation concluded with Council Vice President James Letterie suggesting that Town Manager Austin Faison look into reopening negotiations with Massport, in what would be a huge step forward for WAHC and the citizens of Winthrop.

WAHC aims to reduce the health problems of residents caused by the daily operations of Logan Airport. It is currently focused on the noise pollution caused by low-flying aircraft over Winthrop’s Point Shirley. Studies have shown that noise pollution can lead to hypertension, heart disease and conditions related to sleep deprivation.

The town of Winthrop has four noise monitors, one thats tracks the noise levels from Runway 9, which is the heaviest used runway for departures in all of Massport. The runway’s flight path is directly over the homes on Point Shirley at a height of between 300 and 700 feet. One plane departs approximately every minute.

“Logan doesn’t have a curfew,” said Cassetta in an interview with the Transcript. “They can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Noise pollution is measured by average decibels for daytime and nighttime levels (DNL). Anything over a 65 decibel average has been deemed uninhabitable for humans. Last year, sound monitors clocked Point Shirley at an average DNL of 74, which Cassetta called “inhumane.”

“They should seize everybody’s property on Point Shirley and have everyone evacuate,” she said. “People can’t live there.”

Properties in East Boston have already been seized and evacuated due to airport noise pollution.

In addition to the noise, WAHC is also concerned about air pollution. Fine particulates given off by aircraft have been linked to COPD, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

In order to create community resilience against noise and air pollution caused by Logan’s Terminal E expansion, the town entered into a mitigation agreement with Massport in 2018, when it accepted Massport’s offer of $900,000 over a period of seven years, or roughly $129,000 per year.

The mitigation funds are meant to be invested into soundproofing and air filtration measures for the affected homes. But Cassetta said this is not nearly enough to retrofit the soundproofing on all the impacted properties, some of which hasn’t been updated in three decades. She also says that Winthrop residents would be shouldering the burden of any associated electric work.

“People should not have to come up with that money out of pocket,” she said.

In comparison, East Boston is receiving $500,000 per year in perpetuity as part of its mitigation agreement with Massport, adjusted to account for inflation. One hundred East Boston homes were fully soundproofed. In addition, East Boston got an evening noise abatement program that prohibits certain runways from being used between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“Look what East Boston is getting and look what we’re getting,” said Cassetta. “We don’t feel we got a just deal.”

Cassetta alleged that WAHC was never consulted prior to Town Manager Faison and Council President Ron Vecchia signing off on the agreement.

“Our committee was never approached by anyone during these negotiations, despite our efforts to reach out to them,” she said. “We’ve done the research. We want to arm them with information.”

Cassetta also argued that the agreement was based on flawed data, saying Massport had significantly underestimated the volume of flights and passengers.

WAHC has been laboring for years to gain more visibility around the airport’s quality-of-life impact on residents. It has had audiences with Congresswoman Katherine Clark, Senator Joe Boncore and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, all to no avail.

“We need the Town’s help. It is your duty and responsibility now,” Cassetta told Council. “We have exhausted all avenues.”

WAHC urged Council to renegotiate the entire mitigation package and to involve the committee in any future negotiations. At the very least, it wants Council to pressure Massport to agree to passenger facility charges, a fee added to the price of airline tickets, which would go directly into a reserve fund for soundproofing and air filters for homes in the affected area.

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