Residents of Southeast Queens are expecting to hear this week how the Port Authority will respond to their appeal of plans to move runway operations closer to residential neighborhoods.
Attorney Clyde Vanel, who filed the appeal in federal court in New York City on behalf of the Eastern Queens Alliance back in March, sought to dispel the thought that residents are just anti-airport.
“The Port Authority wants to have a 728-foot extension that will bring operations much closer to the community,” Vanel said. “There will be an impact on the community. There will be noise. Many people in our community suffer from respiratory problems, and there are air quality issues. We want a full environmental study. They haven’t done that.”
The change, which is mandated by Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration, will, among other things, add a safety zone at the northernmost end of runway 4L-22R. It also will allow JFK to service larger, higher-capacity passenger and cargo jets.
While it will not change JFK’s present footprint, Vanel said some aircraft might be coming up to 1,000 feet lower on approach than they do now when coming in from the north.
Federal law bars the airport from expanding out into Jamaica Bay, which is part of the Gateway National Wildlife Refuge.
The PA conducted what is known as an environmental assessment study when preparing plans for the extension.
Vanel said residents want what the federal government refers to as an environmental impact study, or EIS, before the project is allowed to proceed.
“This area has many schools and places of worship,” he said. “People living to the north are going to have an even worse noise problem.”
Gov Cuomo earlier this year ordered the PA to carry out tests that are the equivalent of something called a federal Part 150 environmental study around both JFK and LaGuardia airports.
The PA also has instituted airport community roundtable committees for both.
The PA in the case of the JFK runway believes its lower-level study was sufficient, leaving residents only with the option of going to federal court.
“Keep in mind, I’m an aviation guy,” said Vanel, president of the New York Metro Chapter of Black Pilots of America.
“We’re not saying close down the airport,” he said. “Many people here worked or still do work at the airport or airport-related businesses. And maybe 15 or 20 percent of the people here were able to own their homes here because of those jobs. What we’re saying is that they have to be good neighbors.”
Residents in the past year also have taken issue with the PA and FAA targeting between 350 and 700 trees in nearby Idlewild Park for topping or removal, though both agencies say the runway expansion project has nothing to do with the tree issue. The taller trees have been marked when they are considered by the FAA to be a hazard to aviation based on their height and location.
Both agencies have been working with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation in an effort to minimize tree removal, and to ultimately replace those that are culled with other trees that do not naturally grow to heights that would make them subject to removal in the future.