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Southeast Qns sounds off on JFK runway

Patrick Evans of the Eastern Queens Alliance (l.) listens as Donovan Richards, chief of staff to city Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), chimes in on the Port Authority's plan to extend a runway at JFK. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Port Authority got an earful last week when residents of southeast Queens finally got their chance to sound off the agency’s plan to extend one of John F. Kennedy International Airport’s runways closer to residential neighborhoods.

Spokesman Brian Simon admitted the authority could have done a better job in May when it announced the opening of a 30-day public-comment period by publishing a notice in Newsday.

“Very few people in Queens and probably very few people in New York City read Newsday,” said Eastern Queens Alliance Chairwoman Barbara Brown. “I used to subscribe, when they were covering New York City news.”

Brown, who runs the Alliance’s Idlewild Park preserve, got the Port Authority to agree to reopen the public comment period for its environmental draft assessment, and she could not have picked a more fitting location for the meeting.

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, at 224-04 147th Ave., is less than a mile away from the northern end of runway 4L/22R and directly under the flight path of aircraft.

Just before the meeting got underway, at least two planes flew over the building, the noise coming from them loud enough to make one have to yell in order to have a conversation.

The skies got conspicuously quiet during the meeting, leading one civic leader to suggest, only half jokingly, that the Port Authority had planned to silence complaints.

The attendees’ main concern was that airplane noise, which they said has constantly harrassed their neighborhoods, would be increased with the extension plan.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires the Port Authority to provide safety areas at the end of its runways in the event a plane overshoots a landing or undershoots a take-off.

This would not cause a problem except for the fact that the southern end of the runway sticks out into Jamaica Bay and the Port Authority cannot build the safety area in the federally protected Gateway National Recreation Area. So the plan calls to shift the runway north and build an additional 728 feet at that end.

The plan’s enviornmental assessment found that this would only increase the noise volume in the surrounding communities to 0.7 decibels, short of the 1.5-decibel mark that would be considered a significant environmental impact.

The Port Authority said it will take public comments until Nov. 1, after which time it will submit its plan to the FAA for approval.

Simon said it was “far from a done deal,” but community members said they felt the whole affair was a fait accompli.

“There’s very little I’ve heard here tonight to change my mind that our community is going to be in serious trouble,” said Alliance member Dwight Johnson.

The Port Authority could simply construct the safety areas at either end, but that would mean shortening the runway length, meaning planes would be required to carry fewer passengers and less cargo.

Simon said JFK employs 35,000 people each day and is responsible for $10 billion of direct economic impact. He said it provides an additional 150,000 indirect jobs and $30 billion of indirect economic impact.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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