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Panel trashes garbage plant

James Hall (far l.) gives his testimony on why a garbage facility in College Point poses a danger to LaGuardia Airport. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

The group contending a garbage processing plant in College Point will increase the risk of bird strikes at LaGuardia Airport assembled a panel of experts to bolster their cause last week in Flushing, where a lone dissenting opinion came from a neighborhood environmentalist in favor of the facility.

Friends of LaGuardia is a nonprofit opposed to the North Shore Marine Transfer Station, which will serve as a drop-off point for garbage collected by trucks trolling eastern Queens and the Rockaways. That garbage will then be sorted and shipped away by barge should the mayor’s plan come to fruition, but the organization contends it will make the airport more dangerous by increasing the risk of bird strikes.

“This facility is not just a threat to air safety, it will threaten our personal safety, our quality of life and our regional economy,” said Ken Paskar, president of Friends of LaGuardia, introducing the panel gathered at the Flushing branch of Queens Public Library, at 41-17 Main St.

The friends said they invited representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who authorized the project, and invited a representative from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office as well, though no one from the three agencies showed.

The experts assembled at the long table in the basement of the library rehashed many of the organizations’ opinions about why the garbage will attract winged creatures searching for food.

A heavy hitter was James Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, who detailed his experience in dealing with natural disasters and expressed disbelief that the agencies involved would allow a hazard to be introduced to the airport.

“I’m calling on Mayor Bloomberg and [City Council] Speaker [Christine] Quinn to stop this program now,” he said.

James Cervino, a marine scientist who is also a Community Board 7 member and chairman of its Environmental Committee, was not formally part of the panel, but talked about the ecological benefits of the transfer station and took issue with many of the panel’s points.

“This facility won’t pose as a hazardous threat that is going to be bringing down airliners,” said Cervino, who cited a study showing gulls, which according to the panel are the species most likely to be attracted to the trash, are not likely to cause crashes.

And in addition, the state-of-the-art transfer station would be constructed so no bird-attracting odors escape during operation, according to Cervino, a point hotly contested by some of the other panel members.

But the rest of the panelists took turns trashing the station.

One member said populations of large birds that may be attracted to garbage are increasing as airline companies are adding more flights to the rosters at LaGuardia, which creates a recipe for disaster.

In addition, the facility, slated to be completed in 2013, is so close to one of the airport’s runways that it would interfere with a technology designed to help pilots land in inclement weather. This guidance system is installed on other runways at the airport, but its absence on the approach over College Point means LaGuardia will not be able to operate at its full potential during rain, snow or fog, according to Charles Hannon, a former controller at LaGuardia.

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

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