Board Of Health Has Concerns, But No Power Over Airport Expansion

JohnCarl McGrady •

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The south apron at Nantucket Memorial Airport

The Board of Health has voiced concerns with the potential health impacts of the airport’s proposed south apron expansion — but its members don’t have the regulatory authority to prevent it from going forward. According to Town Counsel John Giorgio, federal and state rules pre-empt anything they might want to do.

Chair Malcolm MacNab brought up three issues at the Board of Health’s meeting Thursday: fuel vapors, PFAS, and noise. But Giorgio’s legal opinion suggests that the Board can’t require the airport to adhere to requirements on any of those points.

“We really looked at this very carefully,” Giorgio said. “Under the federal aviation act, the airports are comprehensively regulated by the FAA.”

The Town has also signed agreements requiring them not to interfere with the airport’s operations. PFAS, despite the high profile it has commanded in debates about the expansion, is no exception. According to Giorgio, the EPA’s regulations of toxic substances, which apply to PFAS, would pre-empt the Board of Health. But the Board of Health may still have a role to play in the debate.

“I think that the Board of Health still has an important advisory role here and I would encourage the Board of Health to make its views known,” Giorgio said. “It would be more in a consultation role than a regulatory role, but if the Board of Health wants to send a letter expressing their concern based on the current plan, you are definitely free to do so.”

The Board of Health opted to draft a letter to the Airport Commission, and is exploring the possibility of a joint meeting with the Commission to discuss their concerns, an option Airport Commission Chair Arthur Gasbarro suggested the Commission would be open to.

“I certainly welcome input from the Board of Health if there are things you'd like to talk about,” Gasbarro said. “The Airport Commission is very receptive, has been working tirelessly for years on PFAS mitigation.”

MacNab, despite his criticisms of the project, noted that the airport has made some positive changes as a result of public pushback and comments made at a recent joint meeting between the Board of Health and the Select Board.

“The airport, I understand, is not going to put PFAS in a berm and they are installing a sound barrier,” he said. “But it’s still a potential health issue.”

Board of Health member Merideth Lepore, who lives near the airport, recused herself from the Board of Health’s discussion to avoid a potential conflict of interest but spoke during public comment. Lepore has long been a staunch opponent of the expansion, speaking against it on the floor of Town Meeting in May.

“All of these people that live there have been poisoned. Three of them have cancer,” Lepore said. “The airport has chosen again and again to not do what is best for the community.”

Gasbarro called Lepore’s claims inaccurate but did not directly address them at the Board of Health meeting.

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