Government Opinion Reader Contributed

Op-Ed: Closing Hartford Brainard Airport Would be an Expensive and Misguided Mistake

Landing at Hartford Brainard Airport. Photo credit Shannon Lyman

West Hartford resident Martha Parish questions the true motivation behind the City of Hartford’s plans to close Brainard Airport.

By Martha Parish

As a first district constituent who lives in West Hartford, I am very concerned about Hartford’s vigorous attempt to close an important regional asset – Hartford Brainard Airport.

At a recent public hearing of the Hartford City Council last week, representing the Hartford Brainard Airport Association (HBAA), of which I am a member, Dr. Michael Teiger presented a message of grave concern. He is a well-known pulmonologist who has medically certified thousands of pilots in Connecticut.

His message was in support of Brainard’s continued service to our community. Surrounding Dr. Teiger’s three-minute presentation, many Hartford citizens were also imploring the council and Mayor Bronin to instead address the blight of city-owned decimated neighborhoods and to invest, improve, and develop – not destroy and decommission.

Hartford desperately needs to clean up neighborhoods, abandoned properties, and neglected empty schools. One speaker cited the Clark Street neighborhood in particular. As a volunteer with the Hartford Catholic Worker, I am very familiar with this particular tragedy. The city’s priorities are dangerously misguided.

The Hartford Council has voted unanimously to decommission Brainard, and they intend to persuade our state legislators in February to remove Brainard from Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) oversight, paving the way to influence closure. They ignore CAA executive director Kevin Dillon’s argument, recently presented to the Wethersfield Town Council, that Brainard is a strong financial benefit to the community and all of Connecticut.

With over 49,000 operations a year, it supports 361 jobs, brings in $28 million in wages, has an economic impact of $59 million and pays $1.3 million in state and local taxes. The CAA and stakeholders have specific plans to grow the airport and support investment, plans which have been hampered by city roadblocks.

How can the City of Hartford, financially strapped and with a history of questionable management skills both destroy an economic benefit and then manage a successful alternative?

The benefits of Brainard are many. Active users include the Connecticut State Police, the Civil Air Patrol (search and rescue and cadet training), the FBI, Life Flight medical transport, and three professional flight instruction operations, all training to fill the nationwide pilot shortage. Students of all backgrounds attend CT Aero Tech School, supplying much needed aviation mechanics to our region. A thriving avionics company and aircraft repair facility exists on the property. Major tax-paying corporations as well as smaller private companies use Brainard to support their businesses.

Brainard Airport is even listed on the Connecticut registry of historic places, with enough historical memorabilia to create a small museum. Our airport has much to offer and serves not only Hartford, but the entire region.

At state Sen. John Fonfara’s request, a nonpartisan study of Brainard was conducted in 2015: https://nbaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Brainard_Site_Use-Staff_Report.pdf . This report strongly supported keeping Brainard open and expanding its utility and services. It is, therefore, such irony that Mayor Bronin and the City Council are pushing to close this valuable resource and yet not address so many abandoned schools and deteriorating neighborhoods in the city. Citizens are begging for their leaders to address the city’s blight.

Mayor Bronin and friends at the MDC might have a plan, but for now, it appears to be a big secret. Why would that be?  I speculate that MDC cohorts like Mr. Sanchez (Hartford Town Council and well-paid MDC employee – conflict of interest?) and Mr. Fonfara (known strong ties to MDC CEO Mr. DiBella) are undoubtedly working behind the scenes.

It is Sanchez and Fonfara who are the most vocal proponents of Brainard’s closure. We have strong suspicions that, in the end, the MDC wants to take the property over and convert it into a garbage transfer facility, build a new energy generating facility and expand MDC waste treatment. Will they request another Hartford bailout with state funding at taxpayer expense? Historically, this happened to us before. We have a right to know their specific plans before it’s too late.

Closing Brainard will be very expensive. Bonds need to be repaid, the land needs to be sold at fair market value, leases need to be honored, and lawsuits for loss of business revenue will need to be settled. Some estimate that cost alone to be at least $40 to $50 million. We know that the city doesn’t have that kind of money and the entire FY2021 budget for Hartford makes no mention of taking on the very substantial expense. Another bailout? Without a defined plan? Don’t we pay enough in taxes now?

There is rumor afoot that Mr. Bronin might use his close school-day ties to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to assist him with this effort. Mr. Buttigieg is a smart man. He would seriously question the closure of the third busiest airport in Connecticut without a viable plan to replace it with something better.

Connecticut taxpayers need to speak up.  A letter to Mr. Buttigieg asking him to stay far away from Hartford’s controversial politics would certainly help. We should ask him to read that 2016 study that clearly supports keeping Brainard open. He will easily understand and back away.

The Hartford Brainard Airport Association has carefully studied the many issues surrounding this controversy and is genuinely concerned. We are dedicated to informing the public and our legislators about this impending disaster for the City of Hartford and the region. Every citizen should urge their representatives to look carefully into this matter before it is too late. Time is short and we need action now.

West Hartford resident Martha Parish is a pilot, voter, aviation advocate, and Connecticut taxpayer.

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  • I see your point about the MDC which has been far from transparent over the years. However new housing and retail development still seems an attractive alternative to the airport. Especially if the housing takes into account the income level of most Hartford residents.

    • It is not suitable for housing, that has been proven over and over again. It’s a toxic waste dump site that has been capped over. Any excavation would involve millions of dollars of toxic waste remediation. In addition, the water table is exceptionally high there. They know that, they want folks like you to believe in that concept of some lovely neighborhood of affordable housing. The investment required for the cleanup would be funded by whom? The City can’t even afford to pay the fair market value of about $45 million for the land, let alone the cleanup. Hartford has PLENTY of locations where affordable housing should be built and I agree they need more of it. They need to reinvest in their blighted neighborhoods like Clark Street School Neighborhood as noted.

    • David, did you even read the report of the best use of the airport? New housing and retail is not an option there without millions of dollars of cleanup and remediation because of previous abuse here. I would think that seeing what happened in our own town with the UCONN Campus would make you think twice and explore the facts about what is feasible for the land. The more criminal aspect is the destruction of 300-400 existing jobs and turning away $59 million dollars in revenue every year-no amount of affordable housing will make that kind of return-and it’s already in place providing positive impact NOW without needing to ask you for more money.

  • The issue is what is the highest and best use of 200+ acres with easy access to both interstate highways and the Connecticut River. The reason why that is the pertinent question is because such use of the property would generate substantial additional tax revenue for the City of Hartford. To preserve this valuable property for the use of a relative handful of non-Hartford residents is simply unacceptable. The author of the op-ed piece describes herself as a West Hartford resident, a pilot and a Connecticut taxpayer. Certainly closing the airport and engaging in a comprehensive development of the Brainard property for the benefit of the citizens of Hartford would be inconvenient for the pilots using the airport. Such inconvenience is the cost of progress.

    • I suggest you do your homework about what the land can sustain when considering development. You are also choosing to ignore all the facts about the economic benefits that the third largest airport brings to the City as well as the state. See comment response above-the land is not suitable for residential redevelopment without substantial and costly clean up of toxic waste which has been capped. Keep those dreams going about some affordable housing like the previous poster-it is not practical nor affordable. Once again the rest of CT will have to pay for the city’s mismanagement of established neighborhoods and citizens which Fairfield Bronin tries to pretend don’t exist because they are an inconvenience. He’d rather ignore areas of the city which COULD be developed to chase another shiny object he might be able to put his name on and not really help any of his constituents, but his cronies at the MDC. Read more about the history and the deals that were struck when they closed Rentschler-they promised this town the Patriots. HA!

    • And that study about your first sentence was done and published in 2016. Nothing has changed since then suggest you read the report.

  • And that study about your first sentence was done and published in 2016. Nothing has changed since then suggest you read the report.

  • Nobody is going to develop anything in a space located between a sewer treatment plant and a trash to energy plant. Not to mention the fact that a multi billion dollar project to tunnel to West Hartford was just completed at the sewer treatment plant. So there is no chance that plant is closing or moving. We pilot to fly out of Brainard are used to the smell. Nobody is going to live there. The MDA has been playing this game for years. They hire a very expensive consulting firm known for its political contributions to do a study that, in the end the taxpayers pay for. Those studies always leave no doubt the airport will remain open.
    What Worries me is that we get another situation like what happened in Chicago when mayor Daley, frustrated with the FAA’s refusal to close an airport on the edge of the city, plowed up the runway in the middle of the night. An incredibly dangerous solution that could’ve killed Pilot unaware of his actions. The Land then set vacant for years as the cost of developing it skyrocketed. And then there is Johnny cake airport in Burlington Connecticut. Closed with big development plans. It is now a 20 year old blight in an otherwise beautiful part of the state

  • Rising economic inequalities, the destruction of a solid middle class able to spend in expensive hobbies as the aviation is, will bring more and more airport closures. I’m very sorry for that. I fulfilled my dream to be a pilot with great sacrifices but flying is going to be difficult.

  • Great piece Martha
    Hfd has 2 aircraft repair shps
    VIP and Total Aircraft
    Do u have a contact for our secretary of transportation?

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