A trash facility being built in College Point continues to raise safety concerns for nearby LaGuardia Airport and, more recently, questions regarding the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to shrink a safety zone in the area to make way for the structure.
The North Shore Marine Transfer Station, which is now under construction at 120-15 31 Ave., has raised concerns from politicians and advocacy groups regarding the possibility that it will attract birds, which can be hazardous to planes, obstruct visibility for arriving aircraft due to its height and cause more delays at the already congested airport.
The FAA recently lowered the protection zone, a safety buffer that must be kept clear of aviation hazards, around LaGuardia from 2,500 feet. to 1,700 feet, which allowed for the transfer station to be built just outside the boundary, as reported by the New York Post. The FAA, however, denied reducing the buffer zone, according to CNN.
The advocacy group Friends of LaGuardia Airport has filed four lawsuits, including two that are now in the state Court of Appeals regarding the study, which the group claims is arbitrary, conducted by the FAA on the effects of birds on the transfer station and the approval of a grant by the FAA for the project.
According to the group’s president, Kenneth Paskar, who has worked in aviation for more than 30 years, the agreement between the FAA and the city, which is the owner of the airport, violated the rules of the grant approval program, which is where the money for the project came from.
The other suits are complaints filed in the state Supreme Court against both the Department of Environmental Conservation, which was supposed to prepare a wildlife hazard report, but failed to, Paskar alleged, and the FAA for its administrative procedure.
The group says it is confident that the suits will stop construction of the facility.
Another opponent of the project, Jim Hall, the former National Transportation Safety Board chairman, has been working with Congressmen Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx) and Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, Nassau) to halt construction of the facility, and has openly expressed doubts that the FAA is doing the right thing when it comes to the safety of passengers and residents of the surrounding area.
“This was done strictly because of political pressures,” Hall said of the FAA’s decision, adding, “I think it’s a horrible idea establishing a safety hazard at a place where one previously did not exist.”
Hall’s and others’ main objection to the facility is the likelihood it will attract garbage-and-rodent-seeking birds. As was shown by US Airways Flight 1549, which miraculously landed safely on the Hudson River after striking a flock of birds in 2009, there is the potential for danger when the two are combined. The flight’s captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, has recently spoken out against the project.
The FAA assures the public that the necessary precautions are being taken, one of which is that the design calls for a completely enclosed structure that is supposed to keep out all unwanted critters.
Still, the FAA normally does not allow even enclosed facilities that are known to attract birds, within 10,000 feet of an airport, according to Hall. As of now, the structure is being built 2,200 feet from one of LaGuardia’s runways.
In response to the Post’s story alleging the change in the safety zone, Ackerman and Crowley wrote to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood requesting an explanation and assurance that there will be no threat from the facility.
“The residents of Queens, as well as the American flying public, deserve to know that every possible effort has been made to guarantee their safety,” the lawmakers wrote. “We cannot allow questions about the safety of this facility to linger.”
According to the letter, both lawmakers have expressed concern for years about the possible safety issues revolving around the station, which were further amplified by Flight 1549’s “Miracle on the Hudson” landing.
The FAA says it plans on taking “mitigating measures,” such as the use of pyrotechnics, to keep the birds at bay, but the precautions may not help, according to Paskar.
The pyrotechnics used to scare the geese will most likely make them fly away, causing them to get closer to the path of departing and arriving planes, he said.
Aside from flying dangers, there is also concern that the possible delays the facility could cause will bring less people into the city, and affect the economy.
“Each person represents a dollar amount for the city,” Paskar said. “If there are more delays into and out of the airport then that means less people traveling and less people in the city.”