Residents of the communities near LaGuardia Airport were infuriated when the Port Authority unilaterally decided to split the combined aviation roundtable into three separate groups: one each for LaGuardia, JFK and Newark.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the leadership of Queens Quiet Skies challenged the Port Authority to allow a democratic vote and refused to move forward and establish the divided roundtable.
“Unless we have a vote on whether these groups should be divided, then all of this is bogus and there’s no point in discussing the bylaws or anything else because you guys have denied us the right to vote,” Janet McEneany, the president of Queens Quiet Skies said. “You’re running a group that should be run by all of us, not by you.”
She emphasized that no other roundtable in the nation is divided because members need to work together to collaboratively find solutions that work for everyone and do not shift noise from one community to another. Moreover, PA representatives could not answer questions about what will happen if the separate roundtable decisions come into conflict.
The city’s airspace is the most complex in the nation, since the three major airports and several smaller ones are close together and many flight patterns are interdependent.
“We’re going to do three roundtables.” Ian Van Praagh, from the PA’s governmental relations department said. “I would highly suggest we move forward and start to actually talk. We can continue to bicker or we can actually work on the bylaws.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) took exception. He said Queens Quiet Skies spent nine months studying roundtables all over the country and devised bylaws based on them, which the PA has not adopted.
“You have to have one roundtable, where everybody gets in a room, everybody votes or we get nowhere,” Avella said. “I’m not going to accept three roundtables because it’s not going to work and that’s not the case anywhere else in this country.”
McEneany pushed for a vote on the number of roundtables next week, conducted by a neutral party, in which each of the 140 people invited by the PA is granted one vote. Other attendees also demanded parliamentary procedure, but the agency did not give in.
Van Praagh noted that members from other regions requested separate roundtables in order to devote more time and resources to solving their individual problems and that the existing New York format would be more inclusive.
Edward Knoesel, manager of aviation environmental programs for the Port Authority, said he would take the views of the roundtable members back to management.
He also said the PA has purchased three new noise monitors for LaGuardia, one of which is in the Bronx, one in Flushing and one in Bayside. Many people have requested that noise monitors be placed on their homes and the Port Authority is deciding which locations are suitable and effective. For example, noise monitors cannot be placed near fire houses or schools, which are also noisy.
The data from the noise monitors is not included in the Part 150 study — a federal process for determining the noise impacts in a given area and mitigation strategies — mandated by Gov. Cuomo. The monitors merely serve to validate the results of the study and identify anomalies.
Bob Whitehair, vice president of Queens Quiet Skies, insisted that noise monitor data is important and should not be dismissed, as there are fights throughout the country, including one in Chicago, to include the data in the studies in order to qualify for mitigation funding.
“We’re going to fight tooth and nail,” Whitehair said. “We think that noise monitor data has to be included somehow.”
The Port Authority has selected a consulting firm to conduct the study and is prepared to award them the contract, Knoesel said.
Meanwhile, the Port Authority is also in the process of filling five new positions in a dedicated noise office, Knoesel said. But Whitehair took issue when Knoesel said that one of the positions will involve “overseeing” the roundtable.
“We intend to be full participants. We intend to change the way planes fly in and out of the airports and we are not going to be overseen, We’ve made that real clear from the start,” Whitehair said.
He and McEneany were furious with the PA’s refusal to let the roundtable participate in hiring the staff or selecting a consultant for the study, as roundtables in other parts of the country play a role in such decisions. Knoesel said that it was not possible due to the agency’s policies which required confidentiality.
Knoesel said that once the roundtable is up and running there will be a technical committee, with at least one roundtable member, possibly Whitehair, a former pilot and member of the San Francisco roundtable.
Avella said he and Queens Quiet Skies have sent letters to Gov. Cuomo expressing dissatisfaction with the roundtable’s progress and lack of input into the study.
Roe Dario, from COMET Civic Association, asked why the online complaint forms have not been translated into multiple languages so that those who cannot read English can lodge complaints.
“The Port Authority website is full of information for travelers or for people who want to get flight information, it’s not feasible,” Knoesel said.
“You didn’t just arrive in Queens,” Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Corona) said. “And we’ve had a lot of languages in Queens for a very long time, and you have existed in Queens with us for a very long time and you run international airports where people with all kinds of languages come through your facilities, so it seems very absurd for you to say that you can’t manage the languages that are spoken in this county.”