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Judges to mull lawsuit over LGA bird strikes

Opponents of a College Point trash transfer station believe birds, such as the geese, ducks and seagulls taking a dip near the World's Fair Marina, will be attracted to the facility and pose a threat to airplanes.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Opponents of a trash transfer station currently being built in the flight path of LaGuardia Airport filed their final arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals last week, contending that the station will increase the likelihood of bird strikes.

The decision in the appeals case is now in the hands of three judges, and the Friends of LaGuardia Airport Inc., a group opposed to the construction of the College Point transfer station, hopes its efforts will result in the city scrapping the facility.

With the appeal, the group wants to throw a wrench into the process of how the airport gets federal money to operate, according to its president, Ken Paskar.

“When the federal government gives money, one of the conditions is when you receive that money, you can’t do anything that would make the airport more dangerous,” Paskar said in an interview, referring to the conditions as grant assurances.

The appeal Paskar and his lawyers are currently involved in stems from the original case they filed in April 2011.

In that court case, the Friends of LaGuardia Airport filed a complaint alleging that the city violated the federal grant assurances since LaGuardia has received hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades.

Paskar and his group believe the marine transfer station, which is 2,200 feet from Runway 31, will attract birds that could get caught in the engines of departing flights, much like US Airways Flight 1549, which flew into a flock of geese in 2009 and had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. They contend the risk of bird strikes violates the terms of grant assurances.

But the Federal Aviation Administration maintains that grant assurances do not apply even to the city.

In the original court case, the FAA took the city’s name off the complaint, arguing that the city does not actually own the airport. The FAA’s decision cleared the city of any conflict due to grant assurances, which is why Paskar and his lawyers filed the current appeal.

Fast forward to this year, and the Friends of LaGuardia Airport is now claiming that New York City owns the airport and that it should never have been dismissed from last year’s complaint.

As an example of evidence, the group pointed to lease agreements signed by the city.

But lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice are arguing that the FAA acted properly by dismissing New York City and that the city only owns the land underneath the airport.

Furthermore, Justice argued that it is the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey that has received about $300 million in federal funding since 1982 and has been subject to the grant assurances, not the city.

And since the FAA already signed off on the transfer station, Justice is arguing that construction — scheduled to be completed next year — is legal.

It is unclear how long the judges will deliberate on the case before either adding the city back onto last year’s complaint or agreeing with the lower court ruling.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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