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Queens Chronicle

Airport Friends turn up the heat

Say city, FAA deliberately ignoring safety considerations of trash site

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Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:14 pm, Thu Jan 26, 2012.

The Friends of LaGuardia Airport turned up the heat on the city and Federal Aviation Administration during a conference call on Jan. 12, saying they have internal documents proving that the city exerted political pressure on the Port Authority to allow a garbage transfer facility to be built within 2,200 feet of the end of a runway at LaGuardia Airport.

Attorney Randy Mastro said that pressure led the Port Authority, a tenant of the city, to relent to city plans to construct the transfer station at 120-15 31 Ave. in College Point. The station is just across a channel from the end of Runway 13/31.

“And when the Port Authority dropped its objections, the [Federal Aviation Administration] did too,” Mastro said.

An email from the Chronicle requesting copies of the documents, sent to Mastro’s office at his invitation, was not answered.

Critics say the 3,500 tons of trash per day brought to the site will attract birds and rats seeking to eat garbage, thus increasing the chance for birds striking planes.

Mastro and others said barges taking the garbage out of the station will come within 500 feet of a runway where there has been an increase in bird activity and bird strikes in recent years.

Simultaneous bird strikes in January 2009 destroyed both engines of a US Airways flight on takeoff at LaGuardia resulting in the “Miracle on the Hudson” river landing. All 155 people on board survived.

During the conference call, the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, a former FAA attorney and experts in air traffic control and aviation bird strikes, said construction should be halted and the transfer station moved.

Barry Yurtis, an air traffic control expert, said the PA had plenty of objections back in 2003, when it planned to install a low-visibility instrument landing system at the runway.

The system was intended to avoid delays and rescheduling associated with low visibility in that area.

The system would have required a safety zone of 2,500 feet, which would place the trash station inside the zone. Without the system, the safety zone shrinks to 1,700 feet.

“The Port Authority itself was initially and correctly opposed to building this garbage facility but then inexplicably reversed course and dropped its opposition,” said Ken Paskar of Friends of LaGuardia Airport.

Russell DeFusco, who investigated bird-aircraft strikes while serving in the U.S. Air Force, said the FAA violated its own regulations by allowing a specifically banned structure.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the facility will attract hazardous birds and should have been denied its construction permit without any reservation,” he said. “Simply put, a known hazard should never be constructed then mitigated when it could have been avoided altogether by choosing an appropriate alternate site.

“I fear a terrible precedence has been set,” DeFusco said.

Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board for seven years and a consultant for the opposition, said bird strikes are a threat to people in the air and on the ground.

But he also said the FAA is now touting a study saying there would be fewer birds in the area than if no trash station is built.

“In that case I expect to see them approved at every airport in the country,” Hall said. “It’s positively Orwellian.”

Mayor Bloomberg’s office did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.

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