2003-10-10 / Columnists

From the

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk By Howard Schwach

Congressman Greg Meeks thinks that it would be a great idea to expand John F. Kennedy Airport.

Meeks made that point at a recent breakfast hosted by the Queens County Overall Economic Development Corporation held at the airport.

Meeks, in effect, was preaching to the choir, talking to a group that depends for its economic life on the airport and the jobs it brings.

Meeks said that the group would have to work hard to bring back business travelers in the wake of September 11 and the declining economy. He said that goal would be achieved eventually. And, he added, when it does, then expansion becomes a key element.

"Speaking of growth, when you look at the capacity of New York’s airports, there is only one that really has the room to grow – JFK," Meeks said in his speech. "With the predictions of air travel doubling by 2010, to more than one billion passengers per year, JFK is positioned very well to take advantage of this growth. With the bold investments made by the Port Authority and some of JFK’s key stakeholders, in the coming years, Kennedy Airport will be ready to compete with the likes of Miami International, Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta’s Hartsfield and yes, New Jersey’s Newark International.

"As the economic engine of my district," he continued, "I have a vested interest to see JFK grow – Jobs…jobs and more jobs… when you give my constituents the opportunity to help you help your business grow, it justifies many of the positions I take in regard to your business. The people who vote for me don’t like the airplane or truck noise and pollution generated by this airport. When I say I am in favor or expanding JFK, they often reply, ‘Congressman Meeks, do you expect us to vote for you?’ But I can explain my reasoning when I can show that my constituents are getting jobs as a result of Kennedy’s growth and other economic activities taking place."

Meeks wants to make JFK a hub airport for a major airline such as American Airlines or Delta Airlines, with the added traffic, noise and pollution that designation would bring to Rockaway.

Take a look at a map of the area around the airport. Expansion means more runways, longer runways, more storage facilities, more trucks, more noise, and more pollution.

In what direction can that airport expansion move?

Where can those new runways, those expanded runways go?

Certainly not northward, where the airport is boarded by Rockaway Turnpike, Laurelton, Rosedale and North Woodmere. Certainly not west, where the airport is boarded by the Belt Parkway, Howard Beach and Brooklyn. Certainly not eastward, where the airport is boarded by many Five Towns homes and businesses. Where then can it go?

Even a cursory look at a map shows that there is only one place for that expansion, and that is into Jamaica Bay towards the Rockaway peninsula.

That is a scary thought, especially for people who live on a peninsula where memories of a major air crash run deep, a peninsula already heavily impacted by aircraft noise and pollution.

Kennedy’s two North-South runways now impact the bay. Sand was taken from the bay bottom to expand one of those runways years ago, and the borrow pits that were created at that time – the pits the sand was taken from, have greatly impacted the bay’s ecology and flow. Those pits may even be one of the reasons that the bay has lost a large percentage of its marsh grass over the past 20 years. The cost, in terms of ecological and environmental factors of building the runway even further into the bay or expanding the other runway, are unknown.

In human terms, however, the cost will be expensive. It will mean more aircraft moving over the peninsula with an increase in both noise and pollution. There is no doubt that more aircraft mean more noise and more pollution. Even Congressman Meeks agrees with that fact.

He says, however, that the cost will be more than offset by the number of jobs the expansion will bring to his constituents.

I assume that he is talking about Rockaway residents as well as those who live on the mainland.

If so, I believe that he is wrong that the airport means jobs for Rockaway residents.

For the past few days, I have been checking with local agencies such as the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce and Community Board 14. Nobody keeps track of how many people go off the peninsula each day to work at JFK. So, anything I say here about jobs for Rockaway residents working at JFK is not empirical, but anecdotal and instinctual.

Liz Sulik, the executive director of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce, said that they do not track that information.

"I know there are some people who work at the airport," Sulik says. "I frankly do not believe that there are a tremendous number of Rockaway residents working there."

Sulik pointed out that jobs at the new trucking and storage facilities that were built on Rockaway Turnpike nearby New York Boulevard were never even advertised to Rockaway people.

"It’s clear that those jobs were not meant for Rockaway people," she concluded.

I believe that JFK provides few jobs for Rockaway residents, especially those who do not have access to an automobile. That is because it is difficult to get to the airport from Rockaway without an automobile.

Perhaps the AirTrain, which is due to begin early next year, will solve that problem by connecting the A Train (through the Howard Beach station) with the airport, but I don’t think so, because it will be both a long and an expensive ride from Far Rockaway to the airport.

Jamaica Bus does run to the airport, but people who live in the center of the peninsula or on its west end have to make a number of transfers to get on those buses. As far as I can ascertain, there is no direct run from Rockaway to the airport property.

Will expansion mean more jobs for Rockaway people? Not if the airport as it stands today does not offer many jobs to Rockaway residents to begin with.

In an attempt to bring more Rockaway people to the airport to work, the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC), York College and the Academy of Aeronautics has plans to link for a college of aeronautics at 6200 Beach Channel Drive, the site that will soon become the new Addabbo Health Center.

Although RDRC will not admit it, that plan is dead as a doornail. In fact, York College recently began a partnership with the Academy of Aeronautics to do a similar program at the college. If that does not mark the Rockaway program as DOA, than nothing does.

Meeks is wrong, at least as far as Rockaway is concerned.

An expansion of JFK might be good for business. It might be good for mainland residents. It will not, however be good for those who live in Rockaway, and Meeks should understand that going in.

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