2003-11-28 / Columnists

Congressman Meeks Speaks

From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks
Congressman Meeks Speaks From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks


Speaking before the Queens County Economic Development Corporation’s breakfast in September, I outlined a public policy position for JFK that, in my and many others’ opinions, is the best way to move forward that will create and sustain jobs but also be respectful to the communities that neighbor Kennedy airport.  My position for JFK has been received well by many local interest including the constituents I represent as well as various stakeholders at JFK.

Please keep in mind, as an elected official, I have to balance the interests of many different viewpoints and make my decision based on what I think is right. I’ve always done that, and will continue to do so. There will be times when I reach a decision that some will oppose. That is to be expected. I am keenly aware that 100-percent of the people will not agree with me all of the time. However, that is democracy at its best!  What I find disturbing is that the editor of the Wave took some of my remarks out of context, and presented to the Wave’s readers an inaccurate portrayal of the facts from the speech I actually delivered. Therefore, let me restate my vision for a "new" JFK that benefits its neighboring communities and its aviation partners.

Myth #1: "Congressman Meeks thinks it would be a great idea to expand JFK Airport." That is my position. However, it is in regards to the on-airport physical infrastructure at JFK (i.e., new terminals, roadways on the airport, new security enhancements, etc.). Kennedy has more airside capacity than any other major airport on the east coast. In the morning and early afternoon hours until 3:00 PM, the airport has only a few flights arriving or departing per hour (JFK is busiest between 3-8 pm with the trans-Atlantic flights). That is how I was able to successfully negotiate with the Clinton Administration the acquisition of 75 slots in 1999 for JetBlue to operate at Kennedy, as opposed to air-side capacity constrained LaGuardia.  Meanwhile, I do realize there are effects to our quality-of-life by living near a major airport like JFK.  That is why I’ve successfully secured more than $40 million in Federal funding for noise abatement in schools and other public buildings since the summer of 2000.

Myth #2: "Congressman Meeks wants to make JFK a hub airport for a major airline such as American or Delta Airlines..."  That is my position.  However, your editorial presented only a negative view that it will create added traffic and truck noise pollution to the Rockaways. If JFK became a hub airport, that would mean that travelers would have more connections to flights at Kennedy which would result in more economic activity for the region.  It would mean more non-stop service to destinations throughout the country and around the world.  Currently, JFK is almost a hub for the world’s and airport’s largest carrier, American; and it serves as a hub for low-fare JetBlue, the second largest airline at JFK.  The amount of dollars generated by the economic activity from a hub-airport would be tremendous for the Rockaways, an economically challenged area with very little to-none private or public sector investments.

Myth #3: "Take a look at a map of the area around the airport. Expansion means more runways..." There is absolutely no room at JFK or any airport in New York to add another runway.  Couple that with the strong environmental regulations and the billions of dollars it will take to get a new runway, and it is just about impossible.  Besides, I never have nor will in the future support a new runway for Kennedy.

Myth #4: "I believe that he is wrong that the airport means jobs for Rockaway residents."  According to the operator of the airport - the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who  tracks employment and other economic figures for JFK, LaGuardia and Newark, there are 6,141 Rockaway residents employed at JFK.

Myth #5: "Perhaps the Air Train, which is due to begin early next year, will solve that problem (the difficulty of Rockaway residents getting to the airport for work)....but I don’t think so because it will be a long and an expensive ride from Far Rockaway to the airport."  Commuting to work is a way-of-life for New Yorkers. Whether they travel into Manhattan or JFK from the Rockaways or mainland.  Besides,  eight (8) subway stops from the Rockaways to JFK is not a long commute.  Meanwhile, the Air Train will provide an affordable, quiet and convenient ride for commuters and travelers; and at discounted rates. For employees and commuters, the Port Authority will offer a discounted rate of $40 per month with unlimited rides. That breaks down to $10 per week or $2 per day.  That is much better than the current NYC subway fare.

Myth #6: "Will expansion mean more jobs for Rockaway residents?" I can only answer that by saying that the airport is the largest employer in the area. It would be logical to conclude that increased opportunities will translate into more local jobs!

Finally, the expansion I spoke about at the breakfast and write about here benefits everyone. The airport is our economic engine. Unfortunately, we don’t have the liberty of being in Manhattan where we can cherry-pick who we want.  If not the airport and its airline partners, then who? How many reputable businesses do you know of that are clamoring to invest in the Rockaways and hire at least 6,000 residents like Kennedy airport? 

Therefore, if American Airlines wants to invest $1.6 billion to construct a new terminal at JFK, I will support their effort.  If JetBlue seeks to build a new terminal at JFK, I support that also.  These initiatives mean jobs and increased economic activity.  In these difficult economic times as jobs are being lost, policymakers must work harder to create an atmosphere that is attractive to investment without destroying our natural resources.  To reach my vision will not be easy but it is attainable. Developing policies that hinder the ability for Kennedy to grow within the airport’s boundaries respectfully to its surrounding communities does not serve anyone well, especially the economically-challenged Rockaway peninsula.  It will just keep us behind many other neighborhoods - socially and economically. 

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