Rumors of merger talks between Continental and Delta airlines are heating up again, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the city's $1.4 billion expansion plans for Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The city also needs environmental permits to move forward. Some residents continue to resent the expansion, and hope it's not too late for a change of plans. 90.3's Janet Babin reports.
Janet Babin- Cleveland Hopkins is a hub for Continental, and the airline controls 60% of flights in and out of the airport. Delta has a hub in Cincinnati, and if a merger were to pull enplanements from this region, it could take business away from the city. Cleveland's Port Control Director Reuben Sheperd says merger talks between the two airlines date back to 1996. He's confident that Continental's committed to the staying in the region.
Reuben Sheperd- The rumors go around, and of course we're very interested in them, but we feel confident that Continental will stay in the area.
JB- Sheperd says the first phase of the project is the contraction of a new 9,000 foot runway. He expects bonds to pay for it to be in place this week. But before construction could begin, the city still needs environmental permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
If approved as is, the expansion project would destroy about 88 acres of the richest category of wetlands, along with 5,400 feet of Abram creek and 2,500 feet of two of its unnamed tributaries. At an Ohio EPA public hearing about water quality impacts because of the project, Mike Englehart of Brook Park told officials he's worried that strong fuel smells coming from the creek will only get worse.
Mike Englehart- I worry that the smell will come closer to the neighborhood, because this area will be all filled in and the smells will travel.
JB- Englehart lives on Cedar Park Road, about a quarter mile from the creek. He took 90.3 WCPN® on a tour of the area a few days ago. As we approach the stream, heading down a sharp hill, the area looks like part of the Metroparks system, with a rich canopy of hemlock and beech tree branches. Most of the tracks in the snow are from deer and rabbits, not from people. The runway extension project would require this 50 foot ravine to be filled in with dirt. Englehart's son Matt worries that will increase sound coming from the planes above.
Matt Englehart- When they fill this area, they'll have to cut down all these trees that act as a sound buffer, so the neighborhood will hear even more noise.
JB- As we approach the dammed section of the creek, the odor of fuel and chemicals is overwhelming. Ohio EPA surveyed Abram Creek in 1992 and 1997, and found the creek to be in what's called non-attainment of water quality criteria. OEPA's Paul Anderson says Abram Creek is a warm water habitat steam, capable of supporting a well balanced community of fish on a perpetual basis. But it has many problems that would likely keep it from reaching attainment.
Paul Anderson- There are severe habitat limitations, chemicals from the airport and the dam up stream still prevents fish passage. If we are to allow you (the airport) to fill in and culvert it, what do we require in return?
JB- Officials with Ohio EPA say they try to keep the water mitigation sites as close as possible to the impacted area, but any project within a large area of the waterbasin is acceptable. Cleveland is proposing several mitigation projects in other areas of the region, including 1,200 feet of Doan Brook in Rockefeller Creek in Cleveland, and restoring approximately 185 acres of wetlands in Lorain county. But Diana Steel with the local Sierra Club told OEPA at the public hearing, that the projects aren't enough.
Diana Steel- These category three wetlands shouldn't be removed. What is here, is needed here, and should go anywhere else.
JB- Scott Davis is continental's assistant chief pilot at Hopkins. He testified at the hearing that Cleveland can't afford to be a one runway town.
Scott Davis- The airport is at capacity. We need the new runway and extended runways to increase capacity by 40%.
JB- Matt Englehart hopes the OEPA denies the Hopkins the necessary permits. He says once the land is filled in, it can't be brought back.
MaE- People hear it's a creek, Abram Creek, and they think oh well, it's just a little stream, no big deal, but in some places the creek is deeper than the Rocky River, and about half as wide too.
JB- The OEPA will continue to take written comments about the water quality impacts of airport expansion until February 14th. Adecision could take between three and six months, and could be appealed. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.