2011-02-11 / Columnists

East End Matters

Proposal To Expand JFK Runways Completely Out Of Bounds
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

A recent report released by an advocacy group – the Regional Plan Association of NY, NJ and CT has recommended expanding the runways at John F. Kennedy Airport. As a former resident of Bayswater in the 1970s and 1980s, I remember when planes, including the Concord, flew over where I lived on Westbourne Avenue. Planes drowned out televisions, phone conversations and shook homes. If the expansions happen, everyone living in Bayswater might as well give up whatever peace and quiet that now exists. And the precious eco-system in Jamaica Bay will suffer as well.

A little background first. In June 2010 the RPA formed the Better Airports Alliance. On its website RPA described BAA as a “coalition of business, civic, labor and environmental organizations committed to restoring, maintaining and expanding New York Metro region airports.” A press release also said that BAA “aims to educate residents on the problem of airport delays, provide fresh solutions to relieve congestion and build a consensus for major improvements.

“As part of this effort, the Regional Plan Association, working alongside experts and stakeholders and in consultation with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will develop a comprehensive planning study on airport congestion.”

There was just one problem with all that – the stakeholders did not include any environmental groups or local community groups. They were aeronautic, transportation and business organizations. Residents have begun to weigh in on the issue. In the February 2 issue of the Daily News, Cheryl Ceder wrote, “I live in Bayswater and it already sounds, sometimes, as if planes are idling in my backyard. I don’t need them in my living room.”

Said another resident, “The planes already come over my house. Not always directly over, but close enough. Everything stops.” She added that it is especially bad “in the summer when the windows are open.” The fragile state of Jamaica Bay and its inhabitants will also be in jeopardy. The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, led by Dan Mundy Sr. and Dan Jr., believe the expansion would be a step backward after years of improvements to an area that is host to “over a third of all bird species in North America … over 60 reptiles and dozens of species of fish … 400 acres of wetlands and shoreline … [and is home] to spring and summer runs of striped bass and bluefish which number in the tens of thousands.” They deem the area, “rich in natural resources.” Dan Mundy Sr. told The Wave on Monday, “We were never asked, no environmental group [was involved in the report].” While they have been promised participation from this point on, Mundy had no idea what the next step would be. Of course, anyone who has used JFK realizes the need for some type of change to increase the capacity and flight schedules.

To do it on the backs of the community and the environment is wrong. While one representative for the group did say he expected opposition from environmental groups and looks forward to working with members of the community, the time to solicit ideas should have been while the RPA and BAA were gathering information. Of course, there did seem to be an agenda. The organizations that took part are more concerned with tourism, airport improvements and business. And while this is all extremely important to New York, the lives of those who live near the airport, the wildlife that also exists, and the health of Jamaica Bay itself cannot be overlooked.

Congressman Anthony Weiner said, “It’s a bad idea that violates Federal law.” What Weiner was talking about is the Federal law that prohibits JFK from expanding its runways into Jamaica Bay. That law can only be changed by an act of Congress. Which, hopefully, will not happen.

An alternative is the Federal Aviation Administration’s NexGen 1 and 2 which changes air traffic control to a satellite based technology. It would not cause the same problems for residents and the Bay as runway expansions would. According to the FAA website, NexGen will “improve and accommodate future needs of air travel while strengthening the economy with one seamless global sky … help communities make better use of their airports … meet our increasing national security needs … [and] insure that travelers benefit from the highest levels of safety.” The FAA has already seen “millions of dollars in benefits through demonstrations and the early stages of deployment, and billions of dollars in additional savings can be expected in the future.”

That sounds a whole lot better than destroying the quality of life for area residents and the wildlife that calls Jamaica Bay its home.

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