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Goodspeed Airport LLC v. East Haddam Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Comm'n

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20095
Nos. No. 10-516-cv, (2d Cir., 02/10/2011)

The Second Circuit held that the Connecticut Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act (IWWA) and the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), as well as municipal regulations that impose permit requirements for cutting trees on protected wetlands, are not preempted by the Federal Aviation Act (FAA) or the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA). The case arose after an airport sought to cut some trees on its property, part of which is protected wetlands, because they obstruct air navigation. Under Connecticut law and municipal regulations, a person must apply for permission to undertake activities affecting wetlands. But the airport argued that because the trees at issue here qualify as obstructions, they are hazards under the FAA regulations and the otherwise applicable state and local statutory and regulatory framework establishing the wetlands permit process is preempted. The court has previously stated in dicta that U.S. Congress has established its intent to occupy the entire field of air safety, thereby preempting state regulation of that field. However, the state and local statutes, regulations, and actions at issue here are neither field-preempted by the language of the FAA, nor expressly preempted by the ADA. The airport is not federally licensed under the FAA; it is a small private airport with no federal funding. As such, there is no federal interest in the airport's proposed actions. Moreover, the IWWA and CEPA are environmental laws that do not refer to aviation or airports. Further, the impact on air carriers of the laws and regulations at issue here, if any, is too remote to be expressly preempted under the terms of the ADA. Accordingly, the airport must observe the appropriate state procedures before it can cut down the trees.