New Bedford, Massachusetts Airport

Bob Cook

I live in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It is a city with a proud history. Like many old New England cities, in the last 30 years it has fallen upon hard times. Once the leader in the world of whale oil and then textiles, it now leads the state in unemployment. Being a coastal city we have a strong connection to the sea and our fishing industry; even having to deal with unfavorable treaties and catch limits has remained a major part of our economy. Our harbor is protected by a hurricane dike and is located along a main shipping route at the south end of the Cape Cod Canal. On a clear day you can see the Elizabeth Islands and Martha's Vineyard. Some of the best Blue and Striped Bass fishing is in our waters. The farmlands, forest, rivers, ponds and lakes in the area make it second to none in beauty and variety of terrain.

The Acushnet river and the harbor it feeds have been going through major PCB clean up and has a long- range plan to dredge the harbor so larger ships can dock here. Our waterfront area is a busy place but there is plenty of room for new business. I am a member of the Community Restoration Advisory Board (CRAB) that gives opinions on ideas presented to fund projects that will improve conditions in the Buzzards Bay area. I believe that the improvements to our harbor area will help in its overall success. I also think that a connection to rail service may benefit us. The shoreline is a combination of businesses, private residents, mills of all sizes, used and unused. I would describe it as Beauty and the Beast. There are as many opinions about how to develop this area as there are pontificating politicians.

A few years back someone thought it was a good idea to expand our local small craft airport into what is being called "the air cargo hub of southeastern Massachusetts". When the idea came up we were told that it will be good for us and that it would create jobs up the keesta. I watched as elected officials got together with the local CEO club and its friends at the state university to fund a plan on how to make our little old Piper Cub heaven into a Roaring, Snarling, Spewing, Farting, Raging Bull ready to conquer the world markets bring hundreds, thousands, if not, dare I say, MILLIONS!!!!!!! of jobs here. Now, I couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement. A lot of energy went into showing us that this is a great idea. A whole lot of people came together at a charade "oops" I mean charette a couple of years ago to form a plan on how to save New Bedford. The results were amazing. Every single one of the people there, over 100 of them, came up with the same basic conclusion, that the plan put forth by the SOUTH COAST TRILATTERAL COMMISSION (my name for them) prior to the charette was the best way to go. That plan had three basic components, a waterfront aquarium, a train station to the door of the aquarium and a expanded airport. Actually our airport has already increased its business because of the closing of the Fall River operation just 15 miles away. With PR people on the payroll, the local media in on the plan, and ambitious politicians on board, we've been hearing the happy talk ever since.

Although it sounded good, I was concerned about some of the experiences I have had near airports like Warwick and Boston. I've been in residences where the house shook and you thought the jet was coming through the living room and the only thing you could hear was a jet engine. I was frustrated in my efforts to get any of my local councilors to look at information that I had picked up on the web. I had typed in airport noise and had come up with a collection of information that I felt was important to the question of airport expansion and the problems it brings. I wasn't very popular with the folks supporting the project. Questions about noise, lower property values, buyouts, soundproofing and tax increases weren't the ones they wanted to talk about. Questions about nighttime operations were dodged like dog doo on the sidewalk.

Each time I'd write a letter to the editor there would be a response from the lead supporter of the expansion. I was surprised at first that he seemed to have unlimited newspaper space to answer me. While I was limited to a couple of hundred words, he would write volumes, making statements how the noise would be minimal, and I was just a NIMBY unable to understand the big picture. In his letter responding to mine about recent crashes of cargo planes, he writes: "No Mr. Cook, please do not step aside, it would be a final pleasure to see obstructionists like you on the highway, while trucks loaded with machinery drive right over you on their way to places that contain an infrastructure conducive to competing in a global economy." I should have known the newspaper was in the SCTC after an editor at the newspaper called me about my first letter on problems with expansion and told me that I shouldn't worry about the noise because the airport was surrounded by trees. The paper is quite willing to print articles on how the Rhode Island airport is doing a bang up business, but unwilling to print anything about the major problems that are occurring with night flights, noise and air pollution. A local radio station, the cable TV news and newspaper are using a single source for much of their news, and I believe it is being managed to promote a certain agenda.

There was also an up side when my letters were printed. People started calling me out of the blue. They wanted to tell me that they agreed with me about the airport. I was asked to be the community representative on a study advisory committee. There is now a small grassroots group that is speaking out. We have been able to get some of the candidates for mayor to question the airport expansion. In a conversation with a ward candidate I was told that he had talked to another high-ranking politician and he called me a nut. At least they're thinking about me and what I'm saying. Some think I may be a little too much of a rabble-rouser and are concerned with their association with me.

Many believe that it will take years if ever to complete this project, and we may be speaking out to soon. There is the fact that it may generate the kind of business and jobs the claims make. There are many people saying we have to get onboard or fall by the wayside. Is it an issue of change, and resistance to it? Is it an issue of progress, or the quality of our lives? Many of the people who will be negatively affected are the homeowners who have jobs and will pay the price for expansion more than anyone else.

Airports in general are growing faster than the FAA can handle. Our whole philosophy of life today is based partly on how far, how fast, how much. The very people who claim to be concerned with cleaning and improving our harbor and the lives of the marine life in it are ready to put an industry with major environmental problems in an area bordered on one side by important wetlands and housing of all types on the other. I sometimes ask myself why I care about this issue. Is it selfishness because I believe it will affect me? Is it a call to civic duty because I'm disgusted with those who are running the show now? Maybe I should just shut up and move. The moving idea seems like a good idea, but there are problems with that. For me it's not a question of moving my kids away from school, their friends, or the area they are familiar with. It's more of a question of the plants and trees I've planted, the neighbors I have and know. There's also the question of where to go. With the towns around us all raising lot sizes and limiting growth to protect the quality of their lives, it is expensive to relocate.

Noise, I have learned, is a highly subjective issue. One man's noise is another man's music. We all hear things differently at different times. The air industry may someday be quiet and pollution free, but in the meantime what will happen to those of us who have no recourse but to put up with it? I hope that this letter will generate some responses and ideas for us to use in our fight.

Mr. Cook welcomes comments, questions, and ideas from interested readers. You may write to him by e-mail at, or click here to visit his website: New Bedford Bob's Web Site

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