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Queens Chronicle

Tree tagging sparks JFK runway rumors

Residents fear trees, parkland only the beginning of airport expansion

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:48 am, Thu May 9, 2013.

Residents and elected officials from Southeast Queens on Friday took what they hope is not a last look at about 700 trees in the Idlewild Park Preserve.

Nearly 400 of the trees have been marked by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as being potential hazards to planes landing at or taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The rest could face the chainsaws if or when the city, PA and Federal Aviation Administration reach an agreement on the relocation of JFK’s Runway 4L-22R.

“We have been caring for this park for 10 years,” Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the Eastern Queens Alliance, said to the more than 60 people in attendance at the park.

“We have taken care of the park; we have blazed trails here,” she said. “In 10 years we have heard nothing about these trees being too tall. Why now?”

The Port Authority, in a statement issued Tuesday, said it is complying with federal regulations.

“The Federal Aviaton Administration’s mandate that runway protection zones be free of obstructions currently requires the removal or pruning of nearly 400 trees at Idlewild Park to ensure the safety of people, property and planes within one of JFK Airport’s busy flight paths,” the PA said. “The Port Authority ... also is working with the New York City Parks Department to minimize removal of trees where possible. The trees targeted now for removal or pruning are currently aviation hazards.”

Brown and others believe the proposed tree-cutting is a prelude to bringing more and larger aircraft into and out of JFK over Springfield Gardens, Brookville, Laurelton, South Jamaica and other neighborhoods — planes that would be flying lower and lower overhead should the FAA and PA succeed in relocating the runway some 700 feet to the north and adding a 1,000-foot-long, 500-foot wide safety zone at the northerly end.

Lonnie Glover, president of the Springfield Gardens Civic Association and an officer with the EQA, pointed to a stand of trees in the park, southeast of the large cricket field near 223rd Street and 149th Avenue.

Some of the trees were marked with a large black X, while others nearby had the mark painted over, or no mark at all.

“If these trees are too tall, then planes are flying too low over this park,” Glover said.

Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said that even if no parkland is lost, lower flights might make the park unusable.

At a meeting in October, PA representatives told a similar gathering of more than 200 that the work would need to be done to accommodate aircraft such as the Airbus A380, which currently lands at Kennedy over Howard Beach and Ozone Park.

The double-decker behemoths are more than 230 feet long and can carry between 500 and 800 passengers.

If finally approved, the runway shift would bring the northern-most edge of the safety zone almost up to Rockaway Boulevard. The FAA deadline is in 2015

“It’s noisy already,” Bess De Beetham, who sits on Community Board 13, said at the park on Friday. “None of us will have any china left.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) does not represent the region, but has been sparring with the FAA for years over noise connected with LaGuardia Airport — and with how the agency conducts business with residents of Queens in general.

He told those assembled that there is some hope in the form of a roundtable panel consisting of homeowners and other stakeholders that he said the FAA is open to establishing in Queens.

“Just about every other city in the country with a major airport has that, and Queens doesn’t,” he said.

City officials have told the Chronicle that some trees will be removed as required by the FAA for what it calls a “safety corridor” that has location and height restrictions for trees within it.

Where possible, the city said it will remove mostly invasive species, and each one taken down would be replaced by “multiple trees” that are native to the area and more appropriate for the park’s ecosystem.

They also will be chosen from among species that do not grow tall enough to cause a problem to aviation.

In a statement issued by the FAA, the agency said it will review an environmental assessment report before the project can move forward. A draft report, commissioned and prepared by the PA, currently is open for public comment.

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