Cleveland Hopkins International Airport has been in the spotlight lately as it prepares to proceed with a major expansion project. This spring, more than 700 people turned out for a celebration of the airport's 75-year history, hosted by Cleveland Mayor Mike White. The event came on the heels of a meeting the previous day between city council members and representatives of suburban towns that surround the airport. While the meeting dealt with the problems and controversies surrounding the expansion, not so at the airport's secondary hangar. 90.3's Bill Rice has this report.
Bill Rice- The atmosphere is purely festive, complete with cocktail lounge entertainment and lots of hors'douvres, along with exhibits of memorabilia and elaborate diagrams of the impending improvements. During a short program of speeches and accolades, Mayor Mike White talks up the airport's 75-year past, and the importance of the expansion project scheduled to begin late this summer.
Mayor Michael White- Our future, we believe, is to take Cleveland and this airport to the rest of the world, to build a brand new 9,000-foot runway, to increase our capacity to go from here to the rest of the world with our first real international runway, and thirdly to build our facilities so that we can continue growing. So we thank you for coming, and we say happy birthday to Hopkins.
BR- The first phase of expansion, while it's been controversial, is now in the final stages of approval. Kate Hubben, a spokesperson for Hopkins, says the final hurdle is for the Federal Aviation Administration to sign off on an environmental impact study, which she says has been filed. If all goes well the FAA will issue a record of decision giving the go-ahead by August 25th - that's the date that will keep the project on schedule.
However, Hopkins is also in negotiation with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for a storm water permit, and there's a sticking point. Due to past infractions the OEPA initially denied issuing a general permit to Hopkins. Kara Allison is communications spokesperson at OEPA, says the violations involved de-icing solution and jet fuel turning up in soil samples at the airport.
Kara Allison- There's a sampling that was conducted March 14th that revealed some of the concentrations of amonia and ethylene glycol and the jet fuel did show up in the sample we took on that date.
BR- Allison says those substances leach into wetlands and creeks nearby. She says OEPA requested that Hopkins apply for an individual permit, which would give the agency more scrutiny and control, but is in fact still negotiating a possible general permit - with conditions.
KA- We want the same level of protection that we would get under an individual permit. And we're willing to talk about the process to get to that point but we're not willing to compromise any environmental quality on the project.
BR- Allison says OEPA hopes to accommodate Hopkins' August 25th target date for FAA approval. Airport spokesperson Kate Hubben says she's confident that target will be met.
Kate Hubben- The OEPA decisions don't have anything to do really with the record of decision, but everything is going very smoothly. We're in constant discussions with the OEPA and I think they feel very comfortable with where we are.
BR (to KH)- Do they have to grant you the OK to go ahead?
KH- Certainly they play a role but they're not the people that grant the record of decision - it's purely the FAA.
BR- The current Hopkins expansion, which includes the growth of Continental Airlines as a major hub, is just the first phase of a much larger vision for air transportation in the Cleveland area. City officials want to keep control of air transport, and hope to further increase capacity at Hopkins by building yet another runway. But they face a tough fight in securing a parcel of the already fully developed land that surrounds the facility. Others feel it might be more realistic to consider a more regional approach. Ned Hill is a professor at Cleveland State University's College of Urban Affairs specializing in transportation issues.
Ned Hill- The first expansion for Hopkins is absolutely necessary. Hopkins is the most important airport in the system that we've got in Northeast Ohio. And accommodating Continental's growth is important to the economy.
BR- But Hill says the region's needs might best be met by sharing the burden with other facilities in the region - say Akron Canton Airport, about a 50-minute drive from Cleveland. He says that facility is bigger than Hopkins, and is likely to be developed anyway by airlines that will wind up competing with Continental. He says that's happened with other airports around the country; notably Boston's Logan Airport, which now work cooperatively with Manchester Airport to the north and Green to the southwest.
NH- Origially Greene in Pawtucket was developed as a competitive alternative; now you're seeing Logan's management work in coordination with Manchester and Greene to develop a coordinated system of air service in the New England region. In DC you're seeing this with Dulles and BWI working as a system with National Airport.
BR- Consensus on an ultimate vision for Hopkins is a long way off, if the preliminary summit meeting was any indication. A more formal summit meeting is tentatively planned, at which time tensions will surely heighten between the many parties with different interests and concerns. For the people celebrating tonight, the issues that surround the airport and its future are issues to be dealt with another day.
At Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.