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Million Air Pushes Back on Critics of Pease Fuel Farm Plan

As Seacoast residents raise the alarm about the proposed 90,000-gallon jet fuel storage being built at Pease International Tradeport by private air company Million Air, the company is pushing back. 

“Million Air is proposing new tanks with state-of-the-art leak detection, prevention, and containment systems designed to meet or exceed current best practices,” said Peter Bragdon, a spokesman for the Houston-based company. “As long as planes are flying in and out of Pease, fuel will be needed for those planes. Doesn’t it make sense to have the most modern, up-to-date systems available?”

Concerned residents and environmental activists held a press conference last week to protest the fuel tanks, which they said will be located too close to wetlands that feed into the local drinking water supply.

“What’s concerning is how all this is being handled. For example, Million Air’s site development plans underestimate the wetlands impact of this project, ignore the previous contamination that still exists, and the plan places fuel storage within feet of these sensitive wetlands,” said Seacoast resident Dania Seiglie.

The fuel tanks that make up Million Air’s proposed fuel farm would be about 100 feet away from the wetlands in question. Million Air COO Chuck Suma said the 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. “I would never allow or sanction or run my facilities in such a way that would negatively impact the area around it.”

Critics argue that even if the fuel farm isn’t technically in the wetlands area — a claim they dispute — even Million Air admits it wants to build a roadway through it. Worse, the area is still dealing with drinking water contaminated with PFAS chemicals left over from the U.S. Air Force base that used to be located at Pease.

“Much like PFAS and previous water contamination concerns, this is a priority for local residents worried about clean water because it’s all connected,” Seiglie said. “This site mid-Pease connects directly to North Mill Pond by Hodgson’s Brook and from here, contamination can easily reach the Piscataqua.”

PFAS chemicals are linked to certain types of cancer, birth defects, and other serious health issues. The man-made chemicals are found in oils, jet fuels, industrial degreasers, and firefighting foam, among other uses. PFAS contamination has been found in the Seacoast region, as well as in communities like Merrimack, Bedford, and Litchfield stemming from the Saint-Gobain manufacturing plant in Merrimack. There is also a PFAS problem in the communities near the Coakley Landfill in North Hampton.

The chemicals have an unusually long half-life and can stay in the human body for decades after exposure.

Bragdon said the company’s plans are environmentally sound. Plans for the driveway have won the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Safety’s approval.

“The only wetland issue involving the Million Air proposal has to do with a driveway that will be needed so customers can access the site from the public streets – dropping off and picking up clients, for instance,” Bragdon said. “Million Air has worked diligently to minimize wetland issues with the driveway, for instance by moving the driveway as far north as possible to avoid wetland impacts.”

The plans are not safe enough for the concerned residents and activists, however. State Rep. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) wants the company to change the plans to move its proposed site farther away from the sensitive area, which she said is doable for the business.

“Everyone here knows there is actually another completely appropriate and equally sized piece of property less than a mile from the proposed project space and that land doesn’t need to have a road built through a wetland to roll trucks over,” Altschiller said. “There is an alternative that doesn’t even need variances to operate next to precious water resources. It is available and ready to be developed.”

Million Air is building a fixed-base operations center at Pease that will include a 12,000-square-foot hangar. Bragdon said the company is working with DES and all the relevant agencies to make sure its project is done correctly and safely.

Suma said the company will employ about 30 people full-time. Million Air’s FBO will attract businesses to the region and bring more money to the Seacoast.

“We’re going to be changing the demographics coming in and out of the airport,” Suma said. “There are opportunities there and we want to be a good partner with the community and the (Pease Development Authority) board.”

Seiglie, however, questioned the company’s push to get the FBO up and running, saying it is moving faster than normal to avoid public scrutiny.

“This company has done this elsewhere, getting permissions without public scrutiny or knowledge – including places like New York where there are major environmental concerns and the project was pitched without proper review. So, we are worried,” Seiglie said.

Million Air is currently involved in a federal lawsuit with Westchester County, N.Y. over the company’s project at the Harrisville, N.Y. airport.

Pease already has an FBO operated by Port City Air, and Port City’s company attorney, Dan Hoefle, is joining the chorus of the opposition. He said Port City was never properly informed about Million Air’s proposal, despite Port City being an abutter to the project. Hoefle said the site Million Air is using is not suitable for the project.

“Port City is well aware of this plot of land in question. We would never develop on this particular parcel of land for the very reasons cited,” Hoefle said.

Bragdon and Suma blame Port City for ginning up the opposition to Million Air’s plans and trying to get the competitor’s plans delayed.

“Port City is self-serving and stirring this up,” Suma said.

Suma accused Port City of trying to hold on to its monopoly at the airfield by delaying Million Air’s plans. Suma said he’d not worried about the competition, likening the two companies to Motel 6 versus the Four Seasons. Right now, the Motel 6 FBO, Port City, is scrambling to hold on to the business, Suma said.

“This is all stuff being thrown in the air by Port City Air. They have a monopoly on the airport, and you have a Motel 6 driving what can be done at the airport,” Suma said.

Port City already has fuel storage tanks close to where Million Air plans to put its tanks, Suma said, and those tanks are old and present a danger to the wetlands. The area around Pease is also dotted with gas stations and heating oil companies, which seem to be escaping the ire of the residents concerned about drinking water, Suma said.

“If the community is concerned, they should be looking at Port City fuel farms and the gas stations and heating oil facilities nearby,” Suma said.

Hoefle said Port City’s fuel farm is safe and meets all current standards. He said the company will continue to work with state and federal regulators to make sure the tanks stay in compliance.

“Port City Air’s tanks are regularly maintained, they are in fine shape,” Hoefle said. “They will continually be maintained and regulated.”

Hoefle said Port City has no problem with Million Air bringing an FBO to Pease, just not in the location they have picked.

“We don’t have any problem with competition, but this isn’t the site for it,” Hoefle said.

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.”

When It Comes to Water Infrastructure, Sununu Attempts Balancing Act

Gov. Chris Sununu pushed for right-to-work and for a repeal of a required permit to carry a concealed weapon, but he’s also advocating for an issue that’s not often discussed — improving New Hampshire’s water infrastructure.

It’s something Sununu hopes to accomplish during his two-year term, and he’s starting by focusing on safe drinking water and regulations on stormwater runoff. Yet, it’s a difficult issue to navigate. In order to tackle water infrastructure, he needs to balance U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, concerns from environmental advocacy groups, and the cost on municipalities and taxpayers.

For Sununu, a key part of water infrastructure is safe drinking water. Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, introduced Wednesday an amendment that would allow for a loan from the Drinking and Groundwater Trust Fund to assist in connecting homes with contaminated water in Amherst to the public water supply.

“Clean drinking water is a top priority for all Granite Staters, and today I’ve submitted a proposal to help leverage MtBE settlement funds to ensure homes contaminated with drinking water are connected to local, clean water supply,” he said in a statement. “This legislation I’ve proposed today would make use of the trust fund resources by sending $5 million to DES [Department of Environmental Services]. These funds would be loaned to Textiles Coated International, Inc. in order to provide homes and businesses affected by PFOA [perfluorooctanoic acid] in Amherst, New Hampshire the ability to connect to the public water supply.”

The drinking water and groundwater trust fund, which has more than $250 million in it, was created last year after the state’s successful court case against Exxon-Mobil over groundwater contamination caused by the gasoline additive MtBE.

Morse’s amendment is likely to be attached to Senate Bill 57, which would make appropriations to the DES for the purposes of funding eligible drinking water and wastewater projects under the state aid grant program. The bill has been “laid on the table” in the Senate Finance Committee and is expected to be picked up again.

Sununu immediately applauded the initiative saying the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund should be used as an asset to ensure public health safety and provide funds for water infrastructure projects.

“There is no more important display of public trust than each time we, as citizens, turn on our faucets — a trust that our government has done its job in ensuring clean water for us and our children,” he said in a statement. “This is an excellent example of a prudent use of the Trust Fund, as the legislative and executive branches are working together to employ existing expertise and responsible corporate citizenship to solve a real problem.”

The Granite State has had a serious problem with high PFOA levels, especially in southern parts of the state. A recent Department of Health and Human Services report on 322 people who participated in their perfluorochemicals (PFC) blood testing program found PFOA levels that are twice as high as the national average. PFCs have been used in industrial applications and consumer products for several decades, including food wrapping, carpeting, metal plating, and firefighting foams, according to the EPA website

“At high concentrations, certain PFCs have been linked to adverse health effects in laboratory animals that may reflect associations between exposure to these chemicals and some health problems such as low birth weight, delayed puberty onset, elevated cholesterol levels and reduced immunologic responses to vaccination,” states the EPA site.

Sununu is very adamant about ensuring there is safe drinking water across the state, mentioning its importance in his budget speech. He also reiterated this in an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio after his remarks.

“We’ve seen what happened recently in Detroit; we’ve seen what’s happened in other parts of the country,” he said. “We can’t let that happen here. I’ve asked Senator Morse to lead the efforts and not just put $1 million or $2 million out but really unleash the power of the $300 million fund and start addressing this issue not tomorrow, not with more studies and blue ribbon commissions, but start unleashing this money today to look at how we address our public-water system, address the contaminated wells that we have, and really put significant dollars out there so that a slight problem of today doesn’t become a crisis of tomorrow.”

Although not directly related, Sununu has also been a strong advocate for rolling back unnecessary regulations, including environmental ones, that could have an impact on stormwater runoff for cities and towns — it’s all part his plan of working on New Hampshire’s water infrastructure.

Tom Irwin, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation New Hampshire, said stormwater runoff could impact drinking water, but “it’s very site specific.”

“There are communities that get their drinking water from the Merrimack River,” he told NH Journal. “There is no question that stormwater pollution flows into that river. What impact that has on the public water supply system is an important question, but also a very site specific question.”

Still, some residents are concerned about Sununu cutting back regulations and the impact that could have on drinking water and stormwater runoff. In the same NHPR interview, he responded to one of the listener’s concerns about rolling back regulations. He said his goal with that is to not have too many regulations hurting businesses in the state.

“When we talk about the regulatory burdens, we’re talking about the burdens that businesses face and issues like that — not so much with the drinking-water issues that we have,” he said. “So we have to take very careful precautions when we talk about breaking down regulations – that’s more in the business sector. We’re going to be very vigilant about making sure that we’re protecting drinking water. We’re going to unleash some funds and get people the services they need.”

Sununu is so serious about cutting regulations that he sent a letter Friday to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on the “overly burdensome” municipal storm water discharge permit that could be costly for municipalities.

The EPA’s regulations — known as the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4, permit — fall under the authority of the federal Clean Water Act. New Hampshire is one of only four states, including Massachusetts, in which the EPA, rather than a state environmental agency, is responsible for setting and enforcing Clean Water Act stormwater rules.

The MS4 permit was updated on January 18, two days before President Donald Trump took office and Sununu said they were “more stringent and wide ranging” than the previous one.

“We rarely trust in our government as much as when we turn on the water tap expecting clean water,” Sununu wrote in the letter. “That being said additional mandates within the new MS4 will prove themselves overly burdensome and enormously expensive for many New Hampshire communities. Even if these federal mandates disappeared tomorrow, New Hampshire would not cease to keep our waters clean.”

The Trump administration, including Pruitt, has repeatedly said it wants to roll back regulations at the EPA. Pruitt has not indicated if he plans to roll back the MS4 permit regulation.

Municipalities like Dover, Portsmouth, and Rochester have said the cost of implementing the new regulations would be significant, over $1 million, and could fall on taxpayers to help pay for all of it. Rochester indicated it could spend up to $25 million on updating its city water infrastructure to comply with the regulations.

Irwin said some of these cost estimates were “unbelievable.”

“Some of the numbers we have seen are somewhat unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t know exactly how they [Rochester] got to a $25 million figure. There seems to be a case of exaggeration taking place. It’s hard to fathom how they got to some of those numbers.”

Irwin said the new regulations are an improvement on the previous one, but they are still enough to tackle all the problems with stormwater runoff pollution. He said his organization filed a petition in the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals because they believe the regulations need to go further.

“We certainly hope that the new administrator [Pruitt] does not interfere with the new permit that was issued,” he said. “It’s very concerning with a new administrator that there’s a new feeling for environmental protections to be weakened.”

Sununu asked Pruitt to visit to see how these regulations would impact New Hampshire communities.

“I know that by listening to those on the front lines, we can illustrate our desire to balance sensible regulations with local freedoms and responsibilities,” he wrote.

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