This week, County Executive Rob Astorino used the airport’s capital reserves to send a misleading flyer touting his 40-year lease deal to every household in Westchester County. In doing so, he may have violated Federal laws requiring that those capital reserves be used only for airport operations & improvements. Those reserves could have been used to build the additional seating and terminal amenities Astorino says he wants, or they could have been used to test the airport’s groundwater for contaminants that threaten our drinking water. But instead, Astorino used money that belongs to all of the citizens of Westchester County to further his own campaign. He also risked FAA fines to do so – fines that will be paid by taxpayers in the future.
Astorino says he’s providing the facts, but he’s just peddling lies. His proposal is a forty-year lease of the airport to a private corporation under which the County will relinquish control and effective ownership rights of a valuable asset. Astorino cannot know what a new corporate lessee will do in the next 40 years under his dangerous plan.
We do know, though, that under the proposed lease, the new corporate operator will have the incentive to increase flights, reduce airport services, and weaken environmental protections to maximize profits for its shareholders.
Mr. Astorino claims that under his proposal there will be “no expansion or ‘LaGuardia North.’” He knows Westchester voters will not tolerate an increase in flights that will bring more traffic, more noise and air pollution, a decrease in our property values, and the increased risk of pollution of our drinking water. He can’t guarantee no expansion – he can only say that, at least initially, the number of gates, the passenger cap, and the runways won’t change, but that will not prevent more flights.
FACT: Over 85% of the flights at Westchester Airport are private and not subject to the passenger cap. Private flights are responsible for most noise complaints, and over half of all private flights are on large corporate jets not based in our community.
FACT: The airport currently operates well below the limits prescribed by the passenger cap.
FACT: Twice as many airline flights could be scheduled from 5:30 a.m. to midnight without exceeding the limit of 4 operations per hour.
FACT: More than three times as many airline flights could be scheduled by including the night time hours between midnight and 5:30 a.m.
FACT: The airport operates far below the maximum capacity of its runway. Airports with similar sized runways, like LaGuardia or Chicago Midway, can schedule flights every 90 seconds per runway.
FACT: In 2015 and 2016, Mr. Astorino pushed for an increase in the number of airline flights by proposing an expansion of the passenger cap.
Mr. Astorino’s proposal does not include the “stringent environmental safeguards” he claims. Indeed, Mr. Astorino has a track record of weakening airport environmental protections.
FACT: De-icing and other effects of increased flights will threaten our water supply from the Kensico Reservoir. The lease requires only $5 million per incident and $10 million total of pollution insurance. This is woefully inadequate to cover the Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to over 9 million people, including 85% of Westchester County.
FACT: Under the proposed lease, the county may lose its authority to impose new environmental controls that may become necessary over the forty years of the lease term.
FACT: Mr. Astorino ended the airport’s groundwater monitoring program in 2011, citing cost concerns, even though the program was paid for by airport profits. Since at least 2014, one of the airport’s environmental goals has been to reinstate the program. And even though the County paid a contractor $20,000 to design a cheaper program with less testing in 2015, Mr. Astorino still has not approved the use of airport profits to implement this safeguard at no cost to taxpayers, according to the airport’s environmental goals.
FACT: Most of the airport’s noise monitoring system reached end of life in 2015 after 25 years of service. But as of July 2016, Mr. Astorino would not allow the airport to replace those monitors, or even seek FAA funding to replace them, again at no cost to taxpayers.
FACT: Mr. Astorino likes to tout the airport’s ISO 14001 environmental certification. It sounds like a fancy award, but it doesn’t actually require the county or a corporate operator to do anything to protect the environment. All it does is specify a way to track environmental targets and whether they are being met. On this front, the Astorino administration is failing – year after year, Mr. Astorino impedes progress on the airport’s environmental goals.
Even on his signature claim – no new taxes – Mr. Astorino’s proposal is smoke and mirrors. Last November, Mr. Astorino was ready to sell the airport to Oaktree Capital for about $140 million. But over 40 years, this is less than 0.25% of the county’s budget. Selling the airport will have a huge impact on our quality of life and on the safety of our drinking water, but the impact on our tax bills will be insignificant.
Rob Astorino puts his campaign ahead of the citizens of Westchester County. That is why he needs to be voted out of office on November 7, 2017.