Judges hear Tinicum Township appeal on Philadelphia airport expansion

A $6.4 billion plan would lengthen two of the airport's four runways and build a fifth. Tinicum Twp. would lose 72 homes.
A $6.4 billion plan would lengthen two of the airport's four runways and build a fifth. Tinicum Twp. would lose 72 homes. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 07, 2012

Three federal judges hearing an appeal Tuesday of a planned Philadelphia International Airport expansion grilled lawyers for Tinicum Township, the city of Philadelphia, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Tinicum, which adjoins the airport and would lose 72 homes to the expansion, wants the $6.4 billion project halted because of what it says was inadequate environmental analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Tinicum's attorney, Barbara Lichman, argued that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had found flaws with the FAA's environmental analysis that should override the FAA approval.

Judge Kent Jordan, one of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit hearing arguments, wondered why the court should defer to the EPA, especially since the EPA did not take its disagreement with FAA to a government council designated to settle such interagency disputes.

"If EPA chooses not to go there . . . that should mean nothing to us?" Jordan said.

The judges also questioned why the FAA declined to heed the EPA's repeated suggestions for additional study.

Judge Thomas Ambro said the EPA had "presented its concerns on more than one occasion," and he asked if it wouldn't have been easy for the FAA to do additional testing.

Lane McFadden, a Justice Department attorney representing the Department of Transportation and the FAA, said such additional testing would have been costly and time consuming without necessarily improving the analysis.

The expansion, to be completed in phases through 2025, calls for lengthening two of the airport's four existing runways and building a fifth runway along the Delaware River where United Parcel Service Inc. operates.

In addition to the objections from Tinicum and Delaware County, the expansion is opposed by the airport's dominant airline, US Airways Group Inc. The airline says the expansion will cost too much and do little to reduce air-traffic congestion.

The judges gave no indication of when they might issue a ruling in the case.

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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