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Airport Expansion Runs Amuck - Again

Friday, April 27, 2001 at 3:53 PM

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Cleveland's long wait for regulatory approval to expand Cleveland Hopkins International Airport may finally be coming to an end. An Army Corps of Engineers Biologist has been in Cleveland these past few days looking at the proposed expansion site. City officials say they'll break ground on the new runway right after the Corps approves the project. But environmentalists and other groups are doing everything they can to stop the city from moving forward with its plan. 90.3's Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin- Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is the oldest municipally owned airport in the country. Some travelers say it’s the most outdated and overcrowded. Cleveland Mayor Mike White’s been trying to expand it for months. Phase one of the Mayor’s plan calls for a new 9,000 foot runway, and the extension of the existing runway to 11,000 feet.

The trouble is that the runways will be built on top of Abram Creek, filling in 88 acres of wetlands. Biologist Alan Anacheka-Nasemann with the US Army Corps of Engineers says wetlands are vital to our landscape.

Alan Anacheka-Nasemann- Wetlands act as kidneys and filter the water we drink, and they provide shelter and habitat for animals.

JB- Anacheka-Nasemann is leaving Cleveland today to head back to the Corps office in Buffalo. He’s been here looking at the proposed mitigation projects at Abram Creek that he says will lessen the environmental damage created by filling in part of Abram Creek and destroying the wetlands. But environmental impacts aren’t the only concerns the Corps will consider when deciding whether to approve the project. Again, Alan Anachecka-Nasemann.

AAN- Economics is a factor in determining whether to approve the project.

JB- Originally, the project also needed a permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. But earlier this month the OEPA decided to waive its authority over the permitting process. In a press release, OEPA Director Chris Jones stated that waiving the permit would allow the Corps to proceed with its own permit process.

Jones’ non-decision shocked many environmental groups that had been working for months to lessen the negative impacts from the project. Yesterday the Sierra Club’s Great Lakes Program sent a letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, asking it to “intervene,” and require the Ohio EPA to meet its full responsibilities under the Clean Water Act. Policy Specialist Glen Landers wrote the letter.

Glen Landers- For the OEPA director to decide not to decide, is for him to shirk his responsibility to uphold the law, protect the people of Ohio and defend the Clean Water Act.

JB- Landers says OEPA’s decision is a violation of the Clean Water Act. The Sierra Club is asking the Federal agency to assert its co-authority with the Army Corps of Engeineers for wetlands protection to prevent the Corps permit from moving forward, without a permit from the Ohio EPA.

While the Sierra Club says the city’s expansion plan violates the Clean Water Act, the airport suburb of Olmstead Falls says the project violates the Clean Air Act. The city of about 2,000 people has hired attorney Barbara Lichman to represent their interests .

Barbara Lichman- We’ve asked the (U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. ) to stay the project. In other words, we don’t want (the city) to move forward if there are environmental reservations about the project. We want the Environmental Impact Statement reviewed.

JB- The Mayor had hoped to break ground on the new runway one or two days after approval comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, but the competing interests of residents and environmentalists could delay airport expansion - again. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 90.3 WCPN.

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