2009-03-18 / Front Page

'Project Is For The Birds'

BY JOHN TOSCANO

(L. to r.): Community Board 3 District Manager Giovanna Reid and United Community Civic Association President Rose Marie Poveromo joined Congressmember Joseph Crowley at a press conference Sunday, March 15 at the LaGuardia Airport (LGA) Marine Air Terminal Rotunda to protest plans by New York City for construction of a Marine Transfer Station (MTS) within the LaGuardia Airport runway safety zone. By increasing garbage in the area, the MTS could increase the likelihood of bird strikes at the already crowded airport, endangering passengers and surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, neighborhood streets would see increased crowding and pollution from incoming trucks en route to the MTS. (L. to r.): Community Board 3 District Manager Giovanna Reid and United Community Civic Association President Rose Marie Poveromo joined Congressmember Joseph Crowley at a press conference Sunday, March 15 at the LaGuardia Airport (LGA) Marine Air Terminal Rotunda to protest plans by New York City for construction of a Marine Transfer Station (MTS) within the LaGuardia Airport runway safety zone. By increasing garbage in the area, the MTS could increase the likelihood of bird strikes at the already crowded airport, endangering passengers and surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, neighborhood streets would see increased crowding and pollution from incoming trucks en route to the MTS. Citing the potential danger of flocks of birds causing airplane crashes, state Senator George Onorato and City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. have called for the abandonment of a garbage handling facility near LaGuardia Airport that would attract birds to the airport.

Meanwhile, Congressmembers Joseph Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, Gary Ackerman and Anthony Weiner raised questions about potential bird problems and also the 110-foot height of the proposed sanitation transfer station.

They also questioned why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in January 2005 determined that the project was "presumed to be a hazard to air navigation", which called into question its location so close to the airport, but 21 months later ruled the facility was "no hazard to air navigation", virtually clearing the way for the project.

"We would like to inquire, and for the FAA to disclose, what considerations were made that prompted this change in the determination over the past year," the lawmakers asked.

Onorato said he feared the planned Marine Transfer Station in College Point would have a devastating and potentially disastrous impact on the surrounding community and air travelers.

Emphasizing the point, Onorato stated: "This project, quite literally, is for the birds."

Vallone called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to reopen the investigation that brought about approval of the garbage treatment facility near the airport. He said the recent near disaster caused by birds that forced the miracle landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River was a clear example of how dangerous birds are to an area with high air traffic.

"What was acceptable prior to the miracle of Flight 1549 may not be acceptable now," he declared.

Onorato also called for a halt to the North Shore Marine Transfer Terminal in College Point, which is very close to an airport runway near Flushing Bay. He also directed his letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Port Authority, which operates LaGuardia Airport, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city Department of Sanitation.

All are involved in one way or another with the transfer station or the airport, Onorato (D- Astoria) pointed out.

Noting that the proposed transfer sta-

tion would reportedly handle from 3,000 to 5,280 tons of trash a day, Onorato wrote: "Under this plan, hundreds of large trucks, carrying huge loads of malodorous garbage, would travel daily through the surrounding neighborhoods, with this rich-smelling cargo, ultimately attracting rodents, insects and all matter of wildlife to the area, including countless numbers and species of birds."

The lawmaker then alluded to the near tragedy of Flight 1549.

"In light of the fact that the plane's engine malfunctions have now been clearly attributed to large birds, I find it absolutely mind-boggling that such a wrong headed plan can even be contemplated— much less get to the point where construction bids are being sought and contracts are expected to be awarded in a few short months."

Having laid the basis for his urgent appeal to halt the project, Onorato concluded his letter: "For the sake of the people of Queens and the safety of unsuspecting airline passengers whose flights might run directly into the paths of birds looking for what could be their last meals at the end of the runway, I strongly implore all of you to do all that you can to revisit and ultimately reverse the decision to locate this waste transfer station near LaGuardia Airport."

Onorato said he was aware of the need to manage the city's tons of garbage and ship it to appropriate disposal sites. But ultimately, he concluded, "This project does not meet this criteria in any way, shape or form."

Adding one final note, Onorato stated, "Obviously this project has been in the works for some time, but it's never too late to admit that a bad decision has been made and to take steps to correct it. The flaws in this plan are glaringly obvious, and it should never be permitted to get off the ground."

Getting back to the origins of the garbage transfer and treatment facility, Vallone (D- Astoria) recalled that the Federal Aviation Administration approved the proposed project in 2006. The recent experience of Flight 1549, however, gave us "a very clear example" of how dangerous birds are to an area with high air traffic such as LaGuardia Airport.

Prior to giving its approval, Vallone noted, the FAA had released a study in 2004 detailing the potential hazards of wildlife near airports.

The study had stated that airports that facilitate jet aircraft should be 10,000 feet away from hazardous wildlife. This new facility, Vallone pointed out, would be located 2,000 feet from LaGuardia Airport.

Vallone concluded his letter to the FAA with a request that the agency reopen the investigation that led to approval of the marine garbage transfer facility.

Lending support to Onorato and Vallone, Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, stated, "They have to rethink and revisit these plans to open that facility. We already see so many birds in this area. This facility will only bring more of them." Poveromo lives only a few blocks from the airport. Her organization for years has battled to make the airport safer for the surrounding community.

Crowley and his three Democratic congressional colleagues joined with community leaders last Sunday in a press conference at the Marine Air Terminal Building at LaGuardia Airport to blast the proposed Marine Transfer Station (MTS) in College Point.

They charged the MTS had the potential to increase bird strike hazards at the already crowded airport, endangering passengers and local neighborhoods from Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst to Flushing and beyond.

In their letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, the congressmembers pointed out that constructing a 110-foottall tower about 1,900 feet from the end of a busy runway was, "at best, foolhardy".

"Common sense dictates that a different location nowhere near the airport would be more suitable for this project," the legislators said. They agreed with the Port Authority that, "Constructing the Marine Transfer Station at this location needlessly endangers the flying public and citizens living in the surrounding area."

After raising and airing the issue of the FAA's total about-face as to the question of the MTS as a hazard to aviation between early 2005 and mid-2006, the congressmembers closed: "We insist in the strongest possible terms, that the FAA support the position of the Port Authority in the interest of aviation safety and the well-being of the American public. The FAA has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the flying public and the surrounding communities of LaGuardia Airport."

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