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Queens Chronicle

FAA trashed in U.S. court arguments

Friends of LaGuardia says garbage depot threatens airline safety

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Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:03 pm, Thu Jan 19, 2012.

“Why would you want to create a hazard at the end of one of the busiest runways in the world?”

Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board under President Bill Clinton, asked the question in an interview on Monday, three days after federal judges heard oral arguments in a lawsuit aimed at stopping construction of a city garbage transfer station on 31st Avenue in College Point.

The Marine Shore Transfer Station, now under construction at 120-15 31 Ave., is a site located about 2,000 feet from the end of LaGuardia’s Runway 31.

Kenneth Paskar and Friends of LaGuardia Airport say the facility will draw birds looking to feast on both the trash and the rats that will be drawn to it.

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the location, saying it sits outside the 1,700-foot safety zone for the airport.

“What they fail to say is that the FAA had planned a low-visibility approach system for that same runway,” Paskar said Tuesday night.

That, he said, requires a safety zone of 2,500 feet. The Port Authority, which operates the airport, and the FAA have argued that while the system was planned, it would not be installed after the FAA decided it would not be feasible.

Three years ago this month, simultaneous bird strikes knocked out both engines on US Airways Flight 1549 as it took off from LaGuardia with 155 people on board.

With no hope of making it back to LaGuardia and out of other options, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and his crew brought the plane down in the Hudson River. All on board were rescued.

Sullenberger has said in numerous published reports that the transfer station at that site makes no sense. The Chronicle was unable to reach officials at the Airline Pilots Association, the union that represents more than 50,000 pilots, for comment.

But Hall feels construction should be halted and the transfer station relocated.

“This in terms of precedent is probably the worst FAA decision,” Hall said. “They have voted to establish and create a safety hazard at the end of a LaGuardia runway where none previously existed.

“And it is obvious that the FAA and the Port Authority and city officials recognize it is a hazard,” Hall said. “Otherwise, why put in place their mitigation process?”

They are, for example, saying that while the site will handle more than 3,000 tons of garbage per day when fully operational, the facility will be totally enclosed.

“But that is the FAA definition of enclosed,” Paskar said.

“To me, this is a breach of the FAA’s responsibility to the traveling public to make a safe environment at a city airport.”

Paskar believes Friday’s arguments before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals went well. They are represented by attorney Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“I have confidence that Mr. Mastro’s arguments were very successful,” Paskar said.

He believes the three-judge panel will have a decision within 60 to 90 days.

The U.S. Department of Justice is defending the FAA during the appeal. DOJ spokesman Charles Miller said in an email on Monday that the department would not comment on pending litigation.

Calls to Mayor Bloomberg’s press office seeking comment were not returned.

Congressmen Gary Ackerman (D-Queens and Nassau) and Joe Crowley (D-Queens and the Bronx) have objected to the project’s height and location since inception.

“We cannot allow questions about the safety of this facility to linger,” they wrote in a joint letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in August.

Crowley spokeswoman Courtney Gilder and Ackerman spokesman Jordan Goldes said this week that their bosses’ position has not changed since summer, and that they want complete assurances for the public’s safety.

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