Monday, April 18, 2011

Bay Area Locals Fret Over JFK Plan by Domenick Rafter - Queens Tribune

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Residents and environmentalists living around Jamaica Bay are concerned a recent report detailing possible expansion plans for JFK Airport will severely impact the environment around one of the East Coast's largest wetlands.

Earlier this year, the Regional Plan Association released a 158-page report on the future of air travel in the New York area. Among its recommendations was to expand all three major airports, including JFK. Three of the four options the RPA outlined would require building new runways into Jamaica Bay, reclaiming as much as 400 acres of the bay.

The report sparked outrage among residents in neighborhoods around the bay, including Howard Beach, Broad Channel, Rosedale and the Rockaways. The Jamaica Bay Task Force, a group of private citizens and organizations concerned about the bay, met April 7 at the American Legion Hall in Broad Channel to discuss the potential the RPA's plan has to damage the ecological makeup of Jamaica Bay. The meeting was attended by more than 150 residents and civic leaders, including U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens), who flew back to New York from Washington D.C. during last week's budget negotiations just to make an appearance at the meeting.

"I'm against this and I'm not going to let this happen," Weiner said to the crowd, noting that any reclamation of land needed to expand JFK would require federal legislation. Most of Jamaica Bay is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, owned by the federal government and managed by the National Park Service.

Dan Mundy Sr., of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers, criticized RPA for both the general tone of the report and for a lack of outreach to civic leaders and groups around Jamaica Bay.

Mundy also said the plan showed RPA did not have good knowledge of the bay. A section of Grassy Bay, part of Jamaica Bay directly off the main runway of JFK, was termed "dead" by the RPA because of a lack of oxygen does not support life, but local fishermen fought the accusation, saying the location was anything but dead.

"The people in the back of the Bay, they know the Bay," he said.

Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society showed photos of birds and animals that live 150 yards or less from the airport. Some of them live and thrive along the boundaries of the airport. The bird populations, he said, could interfere with air traffic coming in and out of new runways in nesting areas.

"Birds like the snow goose can really get into trouble with aircraft," he said.

Capt. Vincent Calabro, a fisherman who fishes in Jamaica Bay, fought the labeling of Grassy Bay as "dead," showing pictures of fish he has caught within yards of JFK, including two-to-three-foot-long striped bass, flounder and fluke.

"We have to speak up for the Bay," Calabro said. "The Bay asks nothing for us."

An expansion project reclaiming land in the bay would be a "disaster," he added.

Mundy suggested that the Port Authority, which will use RPA's report to examine how to deal with future air traffic growth, should utilize airports like MacArthur on Long Island, Westchester County, and Stewart Airport in the Hudson Valley before expanding any of the existing ones, which is another option named in RPA's report.

Besides environmental concerns, some were worried about noise issues and the potential for disasters like the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into a Rockaway neighborhood in 2001. One proposal calls for a new runway to be constructed on the west side of JFK that would send air traffic directly over Broad Channel at low altitudes, a problem that has already plagued Howard Beach, South Ozone Park, Rosedale and the Rockaways.

"Putting aside the potential environmental catastrophe, what about the quality of life issues," asked Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

The implementation of NextGen, new air traffic control technology, will allow planes to fly closer together, meaning planes would be flying over residential neighborhoods as often as every 30 seconds.