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Million Air Opposition Hopeful Over FAA Review

The Federal Aviation Administration is stepping into the long-standing battle at Pease International Tradeport over the proposed Million Air project.

Pease officials have been put on notice by the FAA over the Million Air plan to build a new fixed base operator facility (FBO). The agency is reviewing the plan and the impacts it will have on the airport’s layout and requiring Pease to have a new environmental impact study done to FAA standards.

Meghann Wayss, a Newington resident who is part of the local opposition to Million Air’s project, hopes this FAA review will finally slow the approval for the project, which Wayss and others say poses serious risks to Seacoast drinking water.

“I’m really hopeful all of this will come to a close,” Wayss said.

Peter Bragdon, spokesman for the Texas-based Million Air, declined to comment on the FAA’s review, saying it is a matter for the Pease Development Board.

Million Air wants to build a new fixed-based operator (FBO) facility at Pease to service private aircraft. The proposal includes building a 90,000 fuel storage system. The project’s construction is also close to wetlands that feed into local drinking water sources. Building the facility would involve disturbing those wetlands. 

According to a letter from the FAA to Pease officials, Million Air’s FBO represents a change to the Pease airport layout plan, or ALP, on file with the FAA. Any change to the ALP requires FAA approval under federal rules. That means Million Air’s project is now in the hands of federal officials.

According to FAA Project Manager Sean Tiney, the final approval all comes down to the environmental impact.

“The FAA’s ALP approval authority for the proposed project, and any other federal approvals associated with the project … is a federal action subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” Tiney wrote. “Therefore, (Pease) will be required to perform an appropriate environmental review consistent with NEPA.”

Million Air’s plans seemed inevitable for months despite vocal opposition from many residents and local leaders. However, the company backed off a bit when the PDA was set to give final approval this summer. 

In June, environmental impacts on the wetlands forced the company and the board to put off the approval until at least December. According to a memo from Michael Mates, the PDA’s director of engineering, Million Air needs more time to complete a review of the Gosling Station Wells, which includes water that flows into the Haven Well. 

The Gosling Wells were taken offline in the 1950s when Pease was built as an Air Force base. The military’s use of products containing PFAS resulted in contamination that has haunted residents on the Seacoast. PFAS — also known as “forever chemicals” –have a decades-long half-life and are linked to serious illness and certain cancers. 

Now, with the FAA oversight, Wayss can see a future at Pease without Million Air. 

“I don’t feel like they would be someone who has true interest and concern for the health and well-being of the community here,” Wayss said. “We want companies who care and are doing their best to be upfront and involved in the community.”

Nothing has been decided yet, and Wayss wants to bring more residents into the coalition opposed to Million Air’s project. The concern has always been for the drinking water, she said.

“This site should be off-limits. Drinking water is our greatest resource,” Wayss said.

Bragdon and other Million Air officials have consistently deflected the criticism and blamed the opposition on potential rival Port City Air. It operates an existing FBO at Pease and has been upfront in its opposition to Million Air on environmental grounds.

Port City is currently fighting in court over state approvals for Million Air. Port City was part of the appeal to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Council over state approval for Million Air’s wetlands permit. However, DES threw out Port City’s appeal on the argument the company does not qualify as an abutter under the law. 

Port City is now taking the case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, saying DES’s order is unconstitutional.

Opponents Organizing Against Million Air at Pease

Opponents of a proposed project at Pease International Tradeport air facility are hoping to keep it from getting off the ground.

The new facility, operated by Texas-based private jet company Million Air, has concerned residents gathering to stop the business from putting a fuel storage tank in nearby wetlands. 

“I am against them building it in the wetlands,” said state Rep. Jackie Cali-Pitts (D-Portsmouth). “There is another way around, and they have to use the other way around, that is what the law says.”

Million Air recently won approval from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to put a 90,000-gallon jet fuel storage tank in the wetlands that flow into the North Mill Pond and the region’s drinking water supply.

“We have had our problems with contamination of water, and we should know better,” Cali-Pitts said.

Paul Brean, the executive director at Pease, said the approval for the fuel storage facility is one component that Million Air needs to be able to build its planned fixed-base operation center, or FBO, for private jets. The company is currently in the planning and permitting stage of development and intends to build a 12,000-square-foot hangar at Pease, according to Brean. The company is approved for its FBO, so long as it completes the necessary steps, he said.

“They’re in the design and approval process of building a brick-and-mortar facility,” Brean said.

With the go-ahead from DES for the full storage facility, Million Air has reached one milestone needed to complete the project, Brean said.

Cali-Pitts said the state has had enough trouble with contaminated drinking water and adding the fuel storage tanks to a wetland that feeds into the area’s water supply is a terrible idea.

“Water could be a very finite resource,” she said. “We have problems, and we need to take care of our resources and it seems like we don’t care,” Cali-Pitts said.

Representatives for Million Air did not respond to a request for comment.

The state has found that Portsmouth and the surrounding towns have drinking water contaminated with PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals linked to types of cancer and birth defects. Science has shown PFAS can stay in the human body for decades. The source of that contamination has been linked to the operations at the former United States Air Force base located at Pease.

PFAS chemicals have been found in the town of Merrimack’s water supply, and drinking water has also been contaminated by the PFAS from the Coakley landfill in North Hampton. The Merrimack water supply was contaminated by the Saint-Gobain manufacturing plant. The chemicals are man-made and have been used in some cosmetics, oil-resistant products, and firefighting foam. 

Cali-Pitts isn’t the only person concerned about the potential for more contamination of the area’s drinking water supply. Rye resident Dania Seiglie, and former Executive Councilor Dudley Dudley, from Durham, are organizing an effort to stop the project.

“Those who forget their Pease history are doomed to repeat it,” the women wrote in a Union Leader column. “We must protect these wetlands and our local water supply as well as ensure the safety of our lives and the lives of future generations.”

Million Air is currently involved in a lawsuit against Westchester County, N.Y. after officials at the Harrison, N.Y. airport withheld consent for the company to build a new hangar. The company claims the county is in breach of its contract.

If the Million Air FBO project goes through as planned, it would be the second FBO located at Pease. Currently, Port City Air operates service out of Pease. Brean said more air service companies are welcome at the Tradeport as it will help its business model in the long run.

“There are multiple FBOs at most airports,” Brean said. “The FAA likes to see eclectic aviation services at airfields.”