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N.H. Supreme Court Considering Million Air Permit Appeal

Million Air’s controversial plan to set up shop at Pease International Tradeport could now hinge on tenants’ rights.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court heard arguments this week from lawyers for Port City Air and Million Air over whether or not a tenant has the right to appeal a state permit.

“What Port City Air is asking you to do today is something this court has never done,” said Nathan Fennessy, Million Air’s attorney.

But Jake Marvelley, a lawyer for Port City, said it’s basic common sense that a tenant has legal standing when it comes to the right to protect their property.

“We should have the legal right to standing,” Marvelley said.

Million Air, based in Texas, wants to build a new fixed-based operator (FBO) facility, or FBO, at Pease to service private aircraft, raising objections from residents and nearby communities concerned about the potential negative environmental impacts. 

FBOs provide hangar space, maintenance and repair services, fuel, and other necessities for private planes and pilots. 

The proposed site is close to sensitive wetlands that feed the water supply for Pease and the town of Newington and is already the site of a major PFAS contamination that has impacted drinking water in the Seacoast region. 

Danna Truslow, a hydrogeologist Port City hired to look at the site, found levels of PFAS in the site Million Air wants to use are already ten times higher than the levels considered safe. Million Air will be building near the wetlands close to the aquifer that supplies water for several communities.

Port City filed an appeal when Million Air was granted a permit to work in the wetlands by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Wetlands Bureau. However, the Port City appeal was rejected by the Wetlands Council without a hearing because they are tenants and not property owners.

“As Port City does not qualify as a landowner, it cannot qualify as an abutting landowner and therefore cannot be a ‘person aggrieved’ with standing,” wrote Zachary Towle, the DES hearing officer who issued the denial.

The law Towle cites in the denial, RSA § 482-A:10, does not define the terms for landowner, and Marvelley told the Supreme Court justices during this week’s hearing it ought to be interpreted in order to allow tenants to pursue their rights, not just landowners.

Port City has a 30-year agreement for its FBO at Pease and is one of many tenants in the Tradeport.

Fennessey said Port City has legal rights under the law if there is contamination after Million Air moves in, but not before. The right to stop the project and to appeal state permits belongs to landowners under the law, he said.

“What Port City is asking upends the administrative scheme enacted by the legislature. It would be appropriate, based on the plain and ordinary meaning of the language and your precedents, to uphold the Wetlands Council denial,” Hennessy.

Million Air still needs formal permission from Pease, the actual property owner. The Pease Development Authority is still considering the project and has yet to schedule a vote on its final approval.

The Federal Aviation Administration notified the PDA last year it is reviewing Million Air’s plan and the potential impacts it will have on the airport’s layout. As part of the FAA process, Pease is required to have a new environmental impact study done to FAA standards.

This fall, PDA Chair Steve Duprey started floating the idea that Pease itself could get into the game and start its own FBO business. 

“Obviously, it’s one of those things that you have to consider very carefully, but it just seems to make common sense,” Duprey told New Hampshire Business Review. “It would give us a greater degree of assurance that we had a range of options for people who use FBOs.”

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.

PDA Orders New Million Air Review

Million Air isn’t cleared for landing at Pease International Tradeport just yet.

Under pressure from communities worried about the environmental impact of the proposed Million Air fixed-base operator facility, the Pease Development Authority board voted last week to delay the project by six months.

The vote moves the PDA’s deadline for a final decision on Million Air’s controversial construction project from the end of this month to the end of December. That gives time for another engineering review paid for by Million Air to study the potential impacts on wells adjacent to the proposed site.

Earlier this month, Newington selectmen raised the alarm among residents, asking people to contact state leaders about Million Air’s project. One of the wells that the construction could impact is the Haven Well, a significant source of drinking water for Newington.

Meghann Wayss, a Newington resident whose family has been on the Seacoast since the 1700s, told NHJournal she and others have been frustrated by the seeming lack of interest the PDA has taken in protecting her town’s drinking water and the health of its residents.

“I’m disheartened that it’s harder to build a home in the private sector than it is for the PDA to rubber stamp an FBO through an area that is incredibly delicate and so important to our local water supply,” Wayss said.

The board did not discuss the change Thursday, though PDA member Margret Lamson questioned if there needs to be special care taken for the wells.

“Not the whole town of Newington is on the Haven Well,” Lamson said. “There are those that are saying the whole town is on the Haven Well, but the whole town is not.”

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. Some of the highest concentrations of PFAS chemicals in the country have been found at and around military bases, “in large part because of the military’s longtime reliance on the firefighting foam AFFF — PFAS are active ingredients,” according to Military Times.

The PFAS contamination has haunted residents on the Seacoast for years. PFAS is a chemical with a decades-long half-life and has been linked to serious illness and certain cancers. 

Peter Bragdon, a spokesman for Texas-based Million Air, said the company is more than willing to see the well review be completed before moving on to the final approval.

“Million Air supports the extension of deadlines for our FBO project at Pease. In the two and a half years since this project was first proposed, the Pease Development Authority has consistently followed a deliberate and thorough approach to make sure its board has the facts needed to make an informed decision. This is another example of the PDA exercising its independent oversight,” Bragdon said. Million Air looks forward to our formal presentation to the PDA Board of Directors in the coming months.”

Newington Sends SOS as Million Air Rolls On

Newington residents are asking for help protecting their town’s drinking water from potential contamination some fear could be caused by the Million Air construction project at Pease.

“Everyone is extremely concerned,” said resident Meghann Wayss. “They have a little bit of trauma because they’ve seen this steamroll process.”

Wayss is one of the hundreds of Seacoast residents imploring the Pease Development Authority to listen to their concerns about Million Air and the Texas-based company’s plan to build a new private plane facility at Pease. So far, she told NHJournal, it seems like they are being ignored.

“Due process is not taking place,” Wayss said.

Newington’s Selectboard recently published an open letter detailing the perceived problems with Million Air’s proposed facility. The letter also asks residents to get involved in protecting the town.

Selectboard Chair Bob Blonigen said Newington is running out of options as the PDA gets closer to approving Million Air’s new fixed-base operator facility, which includes plans for a 90,000-gallon jet fuel farm many say is too close to wetlands that feed the region’s drinking water systems.

Residents don’t want the PDA to rubber stamp the project with what they say are unanswered questions remaining regarding the safety of town drinking water.

“There’s a groundswell of concern in Newington that the PDA is not responding to our questions; they are not really giving the project a proper look,” Blonigen said.

More than 1,200 residents have signed an online petition asking the PDA to slow down.

Million Air wants to build its fixed-base operator facility on land that will require dredging and filling of wetlands near the Haven Well, according to the Newington board’s letter. The Haven Well feeds into the drinking water for the town of Newington. Residents already living with PFAS contamination from Pease fear Million Air’s project poses a risk of worsening the problem. They cite a review of the project conducted by Danna Truslow, a hydrogeologist hired to look at the site by Port City Air, an aviation company already at Pease.

Truslow found levels of PFAS within Million Air’s proposed site already 10 times the PFAS levels considered safe. None of this seems to make an impression on the PDA, Wayss said.

Resident Jennifer Wiener said while the PDA meetings about Million Air are taking place in public, they are held at times most members of the public cannot attend. The meetings are in the middle of the workday on weekdays. She said that even if a resident can get to a meeting, they are shut out from commenting or asking questions.

“We feel there’s no transparency to this project,” Wiener said. 

Wayss recalled arriving late to a recent meeting set for 2 p.m., only to find it was already over. Wayss entered the room at 2:09 p.m. to find the board adjourning the meeting.

“It’s very apparent there is a desired result, and the process is being used to get that desired result,” Wayss said.

State Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) said he and other Seacoast lawmakers have been hearing volumes from residents who are worried about the project. He said the concerns being raised by Newington selectmen and residents ought to be addressed openly.

“All of the concerns the selectmen have raised are more than legitimate,” Meuse said. “These are questions that need to be answered.

Meuse met this week with state Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka (D-Portsmouth) and state Rep. Robin Vogt (D-Portsmouth) to discuss the situation. He said lawmakers want to get all the facts and fully understand the issues before taking the next step. The biggest concern is making sure Seacoast residents don’t again have their drinking water contaminated, he explained.

“We need to do the homework and have the right kind of conversations with people and advocate for people in the community,” Meuse said. “We want to make sure people who have been victimized before won’t get victimized again.”

Residents like Wayss and Weiner want the PDA to conduct a public, third-party peer review of the design of the project, review alternative sites at Pease where Million Air’s facility could be safely located, bring in a professional wetlands engineer to study the current’s site buffer zone; and offer a complete public explanation of what the public benefit is being realized through the Million Air project. 

“We still do not understand how this is a public good when it’s ruining Newington’s drinking water,” Weiner said.

Pease International Tradeport sits on land taken from the town of Newington decades ago when the U.S. government created the Pease Air Force Base, she noted. Since that land went to the Tradeport when the base closed, she said the PDA at least owes residents an explanation.

“We gave away 51 percent of our town when the airbase came in,” Weiner said. “I would expect the PDA to be better partners.”

Supporters of the Million Air project note the Truslow review was funded by Port City Air, a competitor who has no interest in seeing the project move forward.

Peter Bragdon, spokesman for Million Air, said Newington officials and residents have no reason to worry. The wetlands delineation surrounding the proposed facility has been through an independent, third-party review ordered by the PDA already. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has also looked at it. He said the company has agreed to abide by any findings these reviews uncovered.

“Million Air believes the PDA and NH DES are exercising proper independent oversight in this process by ordering an independent third-party review and by having a team of experts, including a certified wetland scientist, walk the property,” Bragdon said. “We look forward to the formal presentation of our proposal to the PDA Board of Directors in the coming months, where the facts can be discussed openly.”

Tenants Rights at Heart of New Million Air Fight

The battle over Million Air’s plans to build an air facility close to wetlands at Pease International Tradeport is heading to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Rival aviation service company Port City Air is appealing a New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services ruling that it cannot intervene in the case since Port City does not own land at the Tradeport.

Jake Marvelley, Port City’s attorney, said DES’s order means anyone with a lease or rental agreement is now blocked from ever challenging that state.

“That’s the logical extent of it. That’s what they’re saying. If you’re not a landowner, you can’t appeal,” Marvelley told NH Journal.

Texas-based Million Air wants to build a new fixed-based operator facility at Pease to service private aircraft over objections from residents and nearby communities concerned about the potential negative environmental impacts.

Port City has joined the effort to block the development, and it was part of the appeal to the DES Water Council concerning 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. 

Now Port City is taking its case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, arguing DES’s order is unconstitutional. 

“The Order relies on a reading of applicable statutes that leads to an unconstitutional result: depriving Port City Air of any right to be heard, and therefore violating its right to due process under the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions,” Marvelley wrote in the appeal filed with the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Friday.

The Wetlands Council order found that Port City cannot be considered a “person aggrieved,” the legal term of an entity capable of the necessary standing to bring legal action, because the company does not own land at Pease. Port City leases its facility from the Pease Development Authority. Zachary Towle, the DES hearing officer who ruled against Port City, states the company does not qualify under the law to fight Million Air.

“Port City does not possess a fee ownership interest in the relevant land. Port City does not possess an easement on PDA owned land, buildings, other facilities, or improvements. Port City possesses a leasehold interest regarding property owned by the PDA,” Towle wrote. “As Port City does not qualify as a landowner, it cannot qualify as an abutting landowner and therefore cannot be a ‘person aggrieved’ with standing pursuant to RSA § 482-A:10.”

Marvelley argued in his appeal that if Towle’s ruling is allowed to stand, no tenant anywhere in the state could appeal any DES order. 

“That would mean a wide-ranging infringement of constitutional rights of any party that happened to not be a landowner in fee simple. Specifically, the Order’s interpretation of applicable statutes prevents any tenant from ever successfully seeking administrative review,” Marvelley wrote.

If the DES order is allowed to stand, it will impact Port City and all the tenants at Pease, Marvelley said. The PDA is engaged in numerous long-term lease agreements with multiple tenants, some of whom have invested millions in their businesses. Under Towle’s ruling, these businesses have no right to appeal any DES orders. 

“Somewhere like Pease, everyone’s a tenant,” Marvelley said.

Port City has said its opposition to Million Air is based on environmental concerns. Pease is already the site of a major PFAS contamination that has impacted drinking water in the Seacoast region. 

Danna Truslow, a hydrogeologist Port City hired to look at the site, found levels of PFAS in the site Million Air wants to use are already 10 times higher than the levels considered safe. Million Air will be building near the wetlands that feed the aquifer, which supplies water for several communities.

Million Air has maintained Port City’s opposition is more about stopping competition than stopping contamination. Million For has stated its project will be environmentally safe and secure. 

Study Finds PFAS Levels 10 Times Above Safe at Million Air Site

As the Million Air proposal to build a new fixed-based operator facility at Pease International Tradeport gets ready for take-off, a report about the already high PFAS contamination has some area residents concerned.

“There may be safeguards in place, but you’re just too close to this wetland, and there are too many unknowns,” said Danna Truslow, a hydrogeologist hired by Port City Air, to review the available data.

Truslow reviewed data gathered by the Air Force in 2014, the most recent available. Her analysis found the site Million Air wants to use for its FBO construction already has PFAS levels up to 10 times higher than those considered safe. And, she warned, construction that includes any dredging and filling of the adjacent wetlands risks disturbing the contamination, which could migrate to the aquifer that feeds the Haven Well or towards Hodgdon Brook and beyond.

 

 

The Air Force cleaned up many known chemicals at the site of its former air base, but PFAS contamination from the site did not start showing in drinking water until recently. The data she used was collected after the cleanup was completed, Truslow said. Questions remain about how much PFAS is in the water and where the chemicals are concentrated.

“A lot of that has been cleaned up, but the PFAS is a more recent concern, and we don’t have a full handle on where it all is,” Truslow said.

Truslow is also concerned that soil dredged from the site and used to create berms, part of Million Air’s proposal, could result in more PFAS exposure.

“They are going to be digging, moving soil around, stockpiling soil; we don’t have a good idea on how much contamination is in there because we don’t have that data,” Truslow said. “There’s a lot of detail that hasn’t really been provided.”

Peter Bragdon, the spokesman for the Texas-based Million Air, dismissed Truslow’s claims, noting she was hired by its competitor Port City Air.

“The report talks about the proposed Million Air site without mentioning what is happening at the site next door, known as Hangar 229, a site occupied by Port City Air,” Bragdon said.

“Sitting behind Port City Air’s Hangar 229, adjacent to the same wetland discussed in the Truslow report, is a large pile of soil put there by Port City Air during their own construction project. Sitting there, uncovered, for months or even years.”

Bragdon said his company’s plans have already met with approval from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, which issued a permit for the company’s construction in the wetlands. Million Air is prepared to deal with all wetland and soil issues that could arise during the construction and operation, he said. 

Bragdon blamed Port City Air for stirring up opposition to the project.

“It is clear to us Port City Air’s objections to Million Air have more to do with a fear of competition than with any concern for the environment,” Bragdon said.

Port City representatives have denied the charge and claim they share concerns about the environmental impact harbored by local residents. Bob Blonigen, chairman of the nearby Newington Board of Selectmen, complained that his town’s issues with the project are going unheard by the Pease Development Authority Board of Directors.

“Most of our concerns are that they are building their fuel farm right on top of an aquifer,” Blonigen said.

PFAS from the Pease base left nearly all of the private wells in Newington too contaminated for safe drinking, he said. He said residents had been forced to hook up to the water system out of Portsmouth, which is now in danger from potential PFAS contamination from the Million Air project.

“Newington has concerns,” Blonigen said.

Truslow and Port City representatives hope to be able to share their questions and concerns with the full PDA board before Million Air is granted its final approval. 

Locals Say PDA Has Conflict of Interest in Million Air Project

Million Air’s proposed flight facility at Pease International Tradeport is getting closer to a vote by the Pease Development Board. But the project faces objections from some Seacoast residents, and new allegations the board is engaged in a potential conflict of interest.

At issue is Million Air’s use of the engineering firm Hoyle Tanner & Associates to create the plan presented to the board. Residents say this presents a conflict since the PDA has used this firm for environmental reviews on other projects. The PDA brought in a different firm, GM2 Associates, to review the wetlands impact of the Million Air project.

The potential conflict was pointed out in a letter from opponents of the new facility. “This is a frustrating and questionable conflict of interest. How can the PDA allow this to happen?” they wrote.

The Pease Development Board has until next month to take action on Million Air’s application for its fixed-base operator (FBO) facility, after granting the company an extension. It is the location of that FBO, close to critical wetlands, that has residents alarmed. They say they are already dealing with PFAS-contaminated water and they can’t afford the potential risk from the new project.

The proposed FBO includes a new hangar and a fuel farm that can hold close to 90,000 gallons of jet fuel. Residents say the board is rushing the project, and they want the PDA to hire an independent environmental firm to review the project and proposed location.

“The PDA’s concern for water quality and preserving the environment around Pease is certainly not evident from the proceedings in the matter thus far. The PDA has NOT earned our trust,” wrote the group of concerned residents, including Dania Seiglie, Dudley Dudley, Pete Carey, Mary-Jo Monusky, and Jane Man.

Former PDA executive director George Bald and local wealth manager Tom Sedoric have endorsed the project, recently penning an op-ed blaming the opposition on rival FBO Port City Air, which is currently operating at Pease.

“The ‘rest of the story’ is that Port City Air (PCA) wishes to retain its lucrative monopoly at Pease. PCA is cloaking itself as the environmental protector of the public interest. PCA is no protector and is simply opportunistically seeking to retain its monopoly at Pease,” Bald and Sedoric wrote.

However, the opposition of close to 1,000 residents, led by Seiglie, has consistently warned that Million Air poses a risk to the health and safety of residents. Pease Airport is already listed as a Superfund site by the EPA because of the PFAS contamination. Seiglie says the concerns of the residents have been ignored.

“Despite our continued questions, we have received a deafening silence. We get the same message back: trust us, this is a good plan. Worse, some argue that our concerns aren’t worthy of a response because this debate isn’t about the environment,” the opposition letter states.

Peter Bragdon, the New Hampshire spokesman for Million Air, said the proposed FBO will feature state-of-the-art protections and that it will be smaller than Port City Air’s fuel and fluid system currently in use at Pease.

“(It) will include double-walled storage tanks and piping, retention berms, oil stop valves, oversized containment chambers, and oil-water separators, backed up with failsafe alarms, control valves, and high-level gauging instrumentation,” Bragdon said. “It will be far more environmentally safer than Port City Air’s two existing fuel farms, one of which abuts Million Air’s proposed fuel facility, which together store and distribute more than 300,000 gallons of fuel and deicing fluids at Pease.”

Opponents aren’t taking Million Air at its word. They want the PDA to either hire a new firm to conduct a full environmental site plan review, or simply move Million Air’s project to a different location at Pease, one further away from the wetlands.

“We hope the PDA Board will look at this matter objectively and account for the health, safety, and community well-being of those who live and work in and around Pease,” they wrote.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported the PDA used Hoyle Tanner & Associates to review the proposal the engineering firm wrote for Million Air. That was incorrect. NHJournal regrets the error.

Pease Exec Brean Leads Fight for Million Air Facility in Face of Community Opposition

Residents opposed to the construction of a new airplane operating facility at Pease International Tradeport say their concerns about the environmental impacts are going unheard. But the facilities executive director is not backing down from his support for the controversial project.

“The narrative that is out in the community that potentially this is being rubber-stamped or rushed is the farthest thing from the truth,” Pease Development Authority (PDA) executive director Paul Brean told the Portsmouth Herald. “Obviously people hear wetlands, people hear this (jet fuel) could get into the wetlands, it’s simply not the case,” Brean said. “There are safeguards in place that we will carefully handle this product and we have faith in the design plans.”

But while Brean may have faith in Million Air and its plan, many in the community do not.

“This is more than unfair; this is irresponsible to move forward on a plan that hasn’t even answered some of the basic questions about environmental impact,” Newington resident Meghann Wayss said. “I don’t understand why they would ignore the questions and concerns.”

As NHJournal has previously reported, eight Granite State lawmakers wrote a letter to the PDA  voicing their concerns about the project. “Government studies confirm these wetlands already contain PFAS contamination,” wrote state Sen. Deborah Altschiller (D-Stratham). “Building on and next to these wetlands risks putting contaminants back into circulation.”

And the Houston, Texas-based company is also currently facing resistance to a proposed facility at the Westchester Airport in White Plains, N.Y.

But despite a steady stream of complaints from the Portsmouth community, the Million Air project appears to be gaining altitude, thanks in part to Brean’s outspoken support. And last week the Pease Development Board’s Technical Review Committee unanimously approved plans for its proposed fixed-base operator facility, which would include a new hangar as well as a fuel farm that would hold close to 90,000 gallons of jet fuel.

The potential for a jet fuel or plane deicer leak into the nearby wetlands has residents already dealing with PFAS contamination worried the project is moving too fast.

Company spokesman Peter Bragdon said Million Air is listening to residents who are worried about the project.

“In the two-plus years since Million Air’s project was first proposed, it has been formally discussed at 10 public meetings of the PDA Board, the Department of Environmental Services, and the TRC, with public comments presented at most of these meetings,” Bragdon said. “Million Air factored in all comments from the public, as well as those from committee members, into their revised plans and was pleased to receive a 7-0 approval vote from the TRC.”

If Million Air is listening, as Bragdon suggested, company executives know nearly one thousand residents have signed a letter asking the project to move to a location away from the wetlands. So far, the company has not indicated it plans to change its location.

Seacoast area residents have been dealing with PFAS contamination in their drinking water as a result of decades of air operations at Pease, which was once a United States Air Force base. The prospect of a Million Air setting up its FBO close to the wetlands that feed into that same drinking water has many on edge.

“People are still paying the price for PFAS contamination,” said state Rep. Jackie Pitts (D-Portsmouth). “You must take this into consideration. Mistakes of the past are about to be made again.”

Bragdon said Million Air’s FBO will feature state-of-the-art protections, and that it will be smaller than Port City Air’s fuel and fluid system currently in use at Pease.

“(It) will include double-walled storage tanks and piping, retention berms, oil stop valves, oversized containment chambers, and oil-water separators, backed up with failsafe alarms, control valves, and high-level gauging instrumentation,” Bragdon said. “It will be far more environmentally safer than Port City Air’s two existing fuel farms, one of which abuts Million Air’s proposed fuel facility, which together stores and distribute more than 300,000 gallons of fuel and deicing fluids at Pease.”

Brean echoed Million Air’s position to the Herald saying, “It’s going to be one of the most state-of-the-art fuel farms in the region, if not in the country. Our design for this goes above and beyond any of our local and federal regulations.”

But for residents like Dania Seiglie, the approval process is ignoring issues like the potential loss of vital wetlands areas because of Million Air’s construction, or the lack of soil sampling being done at the site.

“I’m furious that none of these environmental concerns, not one of them, was considered by this Pease Technical Review Committee,” local activist Dania Seiglie said.

Bragdon would not answer directly when asked if the company plans to meet with residents about the project in order to address their concerns. Seiglie said Million Air’s FBO proposal has been rushed through the review and planning process over the wishes of the resident who will have to bear the burden if there is any environmental fallout.

“I’d like to know why this vote was rushed when they had three more months to review the details and get answers that were being respectfully and consistently asked by the public. I have been asking these questions for months and I still don’t have any answers,” Seiglie said.

NH Lawmakers Push Back on Million Air’s Plans for Pease

Million Air, the Texas-based company that wants to build a new facility at the Pease International Tradeport, is facing headwinds from both north and south over its controversial proposal.

In Westchester County, N.Y. the Airport Advisory Board (AAB) just released a letter urging the county government to “withhold approval” of the Million Air project at their airport.

And in Concord, N.H., eight Granite State lawmakers wrote a letter to the Pease Development Authority voicing their concerns about the private plane service center,  hangar, and 90,000-gallon jet fuel farm Million Air wants to build there.

“Government studies confirm these wetlands already contain PFAS contamination,” wrote Sen. Deborah Altschiller (D-Stratham). “Building on and next to these wetlands risks putting contaminants back into circulation.

“Given the history of water quality issues on the Seacoast and at Pease particularly, our constituents are concerned about avoiding mistakes that can jeopardize our environment again,” Altschiller added.

In Westchester County, Million Air is suing over the decision to hold up their private jet facility. The county countered, claiming that Million Air was breaking the lease by developing buildings it was never approved to build.

“The AAB urges the County to energetically defend against Million Air’s suit,” AAB Chair Nicholas Hartman wrote.

Both New York and New Hampshire officials, working independently, say the company is not being transparent about its operations. For Altschiller and the New Hampshire lawmakers, the primary sticking point is unanswered questions about the possible risks of drinking water contamination.

“Based on our reviews of the publicly available information, we cannot find any disclosure by Million Air of these risks, or any consideration of these risks by you,” Altschiller wrote to the Pease Development Authority board.

Hartman wrote to Westchester County Commissioners that Million Air is not sharing data needed to assess the project. Million Air’s proposal for a new hangar at Westchester County Airport claims adding the hangar for private jets will reduce traffic at the already busy airport. But Hartman said Million Air has yet to prove that claim and won’t share its supporting data with county officials.

“Without this data and the opportunity to review it with appropriate professionals, Million Air is not permitting the County and the AAB to perform their legitimate review functions and provide a well-informed basis for evaluating its proposal,” Hartman wrote.

Million Air’s 26,000 square-foot proposal at Pease includes a new 12,000 square-foot hangar and a 90,000-gallon fuel farm. It’s the fuel farm proposal that first got Seacoast area residents concerned and organized into opposing the plan. Altschiller and the others want the company to pick a spot at Pease further away from the wetlands.

Westchester County Airport is the third busiest airport in New York State, after LaGuardia and JFK. Most of the traffic comes from smaller private planes that use the airport. Million Air is focusing on private, corporate jets.

The company is due back before the Pease board on Feb. 19 for a hearing. People interested in submitting a written comment on the project are asked to contact [email protected]

Critics Say Million Air’s NY Troubles a Preview of Pease Deal

As Houston-based private air operator Million Air moves closer to winning approval for its new facility at Pease International Tradeport, the company’s dispute with officials in Westchester, N.Y. is heating up. The company says it is just how business works, but critics say the experience is a preview of coming attractions for the Seacoast facility.

The Westchester Airport Advisory Committee is expected to approve a letter detailing the county’s problems with Million Air and urging county officials to continue the legal battle against the operator.

“Million Air has not proven itself to be a good neighbor, and it should not be given the benefit of the doubt,” said Peter Schlactus with the Coalition to Stop Westchester Airport Expansion.

Million Air is currently suing Westchester County, claiming the county violated its lease agreement when it tried to stop the air operator’s expansion at the Westchester Airport.

Schlactus, however, said the company is not pursuing its expansion in good faith and violated the original agreement with the airport.

“Million Air is relying on what it claims is a verbal understanding with the prior administration,” Schlactus said. “(What they are doing is) nowhere to be found in the agreements they actually signed. Million Air is trying to stretch the sense of what an agreement is.”

The Westchester Airport is the third busiest airport in New York state after LaGuardia and JFK, Schlactus said. Most of the traffic, however, comes from smaller private planes that use the airport. Million Air is ignoring those customers, Schlactus said and focusing on private corporate jets.

The company is building a new 80,000-square-foot hangar and facility to service private jets in Westchester. But according to Schlactus that was not the original agreement. Westchester County officials approved Million Air’s plans to renovate its facility to service light general aviation, typically smaller private planes.

“They never followed through with the promises made to the county,” he said.

Instead, according to Schlactus and the court documents filed by the county, Million Air violated the agreement by tearing down its facility to build the new, larger jet hangar.

“They say they are improving and modifying their facilities, when in fact it’s completely tearing down a building and putting up a new building,” Schlactus said. “They are playing games with terminology, and they failed to get the appropriate environmental approvals at federal levels.”

Part of the new construction Million Air is undertaking at Westchester is a new stormwater system that had not been approved by the county, according to court documents. Schlactus said the company has also failed to get the stormwater system approved.

The Westchester Airport in White Plains, N.Y. sits close to the Kensico Reservoir which supplies drinking water to millions of people in New York City and the metropolitan region. Schlactus said there are obvious concerns about potential runoff from the airport going into drinking water, and the lack of appropriate approvals for Million Air’s stormwater system is a red flag.

“That does not speak well to their environmental stewardship,” he said.

Like the situation surrounding Pease, Westchester residents have dealt with PFAS chemicals contaminating the drinking water supply. Schlactus is concerned that Million Air’s actions could lead to new contamination.

“To have stormwater standards near the reservoir ignored is truly alarming,” said Schlactus.

Schlactus said that instead of listening to the concerns of people in Westchester County, the company responded by filing the lawsuit, while at the same time moving to silence critics.

“They cast doubt on the distress people are feeling and expressing,” he said. “They’ve been very aggressive in promoting a ‘more is better, bigger is better’ message.”

Million Air’s 26,000 square-foot proposal at Pease includes a new 12,000 square-foot hangar and a 90,000-gallon fuel farm. It is the fuel farm proposal that has Seacoast residents concerned. The fuel tanks that make up Million Air’s proposed fuel farm at Pease would be about 100 feet away from wetlands. Million Air COO Chuck Suma said residents’ concerns about the fuel farm are misplaced.

“We know how to manage a fuel farm and we know how to do this in an environmentally friendly way,” Suma said in October. “I would never allow or sanction or run my facilities in such a way that would negatively impact the area around it.”

Dania Seiglie, a Seacoast resident-turned-activist, said the company is not listening to concerns about the fuel farm.

“Million Air’s dismissive attitude toward these legitimate environmental concerns tells us a lot about their priorities,” Seiglie said in a recent statement.

The Pease Technical Review Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Jan. 17 on the Million Air proposal. Seiglie, whose group wants the proposal moved further away from the wetlands, has collected more than 800 signatures on a petition to stop the project in its current location.