JFK Plan Will Impact Bay, Rockaway
A new study released late last week calls for a new runway for John F. Kennedy Airport as well as other expansions at two of the three main airports serving the New York region, where airline delays and cancellations frequently wreak chaos on air travel. However, many believe the expansions would negatively impact both Jamaica Bay and the Rockaway communities that surround the bay.
The report, submitted to airport officials by the Regional Plan Association, an advocacy group, warns of major obstacles, including environmental laws and development that has eaten up land around the airports.
It offered four options to expand Kennedy airport, each calling for one or two new runways. Three of the four options would require filling in parts of Jamaica Bay, a part of the federally protected Gateway National Recreation Area.
Among the alternatives is to fill in a part of Jamaica Bay and construct a new runway parallel to the existing runway, 31L/13R, one of the longest runways in the nation and the one most often used for departures that take aircraft over the Rockaway peninsula. Runway 31L was the departure point for American Airlines Flight 587, the heavy Airbus A300-600 that crashed into Rockaway on November 12, 2001.
The section of the bay known as Grassy Bay contains a deep trench dug during the construction of the airport in the 1950s, experts say. The plan says that the trench has had negative effects on the bay and filling it in for a new runway may solve that problem. Sources say that the federal law that created the recreation area specifically prohibits the airport from extending its runways into the bay. The U.S. Congress would have to amend the law to allow construction.
Costs for the JFK Airport expansion range from $1 billion to $3.5 billion, the report said.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, along with Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and Stewart International in upstate Newburgh.
The Port Authority provided most of the funding for the study. On Friday it told a New York Times reporter that it was examining the proposals.
It said there were no sites in the New York area suitable for building a fourth major airport.
The environmental battle predicted by the report began shortly after it was released.
Locals argued that the plan would have a big impact on the Baywater, Edgemere and Arverne communities, all of which abut the bay.
One Bayswater activist, looking at the proposals, said that the end of the new runway looked to be about 100 yards from his home.
“I got used to the airplanes flying over,” he said. “This is ridiculous. The pilots are going to be right in my living room.”
Broad Channel resident Dan Mundy, the president of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers organization, told The Wave, “The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers stand firmly opposed to the addition of new runways and/or the extension of new or existing runways into Jamaica Bay. This proposal would do irreparable harm to the fragile ecosystem of Jamaica Bay. As the only designated wildlife refuge in the National Parks System, Jamaica Bay is host to over one third of all bird species in North America making it one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the Northeastern United States. In addition over 60 reptiles and dozens of species of fish can be found in this Bay.”
Mundy added, “The proposal by the Port Authority to fill in and destroy up to 400 acres of wetlands and shoreline area is ill advised and without recent precedent. The report, which is the basis for these plans, appears to be seriously flawed as it refers to the impacted areas as ‘dead’ zones when in fact they are some of the most productive areas on the Northeast coast. Home to spring and summer runs of striped bass and blue fish which number in the tens of thousands this area is rich in natural resources. At a time when tremendous improvements, including marshland and oyster restoration, osprey revival, and water quality upgrades, have been achieved this proposal would serve to deliver an impact that may be fatal to the bay. In addition to the huge loss of habitat and impact to bird and fish populations the expansion would curtail tidal flow and inhibit necessary flushing action leaving a large hypoxic lifeless area in the entire northern section of the bay.”
Rockaway activist Joe Hartigan, who attended the meeting where the plan was unveiled, said that there was no upside for Rockaway in the plan.
“The plan is for economic development, but I don’t see Rockaway involved in that economic development,” Hartigan said. “I don’t see anything in it for Rockaway at all.”
Hartigan decried the fact that neither City Councilman Eric Ulrich nor Congressman Anthony Weiner were at the meeting.
“This could have a large impact on the peninsula,” he argued. “Where were our elected officials?”
Congressman Anthony Weiner, however, issued a statement on Tuesday.
“It’s a bad idea that violates Federal law. I guess that’s what you get when you don’t consult anyone,” Weiner said.