Westchester County’s next public hearing on airport policy covers operations, at:
As with the past two hearings, we encourage concerned citizens to attend and discuss the impact the airport has had on their lives. Many of us have been woken up or otherwise had our quality of life decreased by aircraft noise. Peer-reviewed science shows that aircraft noise has negative effects on cardiovascular health. Everyone in the county is impacted by the air pollution presently caused by the airport. Westchester County has already been fined for polluting Blind Brook with airport runoff and is presently dealing with contamination of private wells caused by the airport. Each aircraft operation poses a small, but clear risk to the Kensico Reservoir.
The situation at Westchester County Airport today is already unacceptable. For years under Rob Astorino, the environmental impact of the airport was ignored. Negative or potentially negative reports, like groundwater testing and noise studies, were discontinued or suppressed. New leases catering to private aviation were signed with minimal vetting from both the executive and legislative branches. The airport’s continuing growth has led to decreases in property values, dramatic increases in noise complaints, and a public outcry that swept Astorino and others from elected office.
There are a variety of actions, big and small, that the county can take to mitigate the airport’s noise, air, and water pollution. Many of them were described in the report prepared by the Latimer transition committee. The county should implement these actions to mitigate the airport’s environmental impact. However, the most effective action would be eliminating pollution at its source.
Federal law makes implementing such a reduction complicated and roundabout. The county should lobby for changes to federal law that will allow it to precisely address the operators and aircraft most responsible for our pollution problem. Hopefully, aviation interests will agree that being able to target bad actors is beneficial for them as well, and will join the county in its advocacy. However, until federal law changes, the county should use every avenue available to protect residents’ health and our quality of life.
What does this look like? It means reducing capacity, whether explicitly or through attrition. It means going to bat for residents against airlines, who schedule multiple flights in violation of our curfew every day. It means looking at every capital project at the airport to determine its effect on the rate and number of operations, as well as air, noise, and water pollution on an absolute level, not per passenger. It means being a strong advocate before our federal government and the FAA and diligently collecting data to support that advocacy.
The county must be skeptical towards aviation interests, including the FAA. While the FAA can be helpful in adjusting and enforcing procedures to minimize and disperse noise, the location of HPN does not lend itself to simple fixes like routing traffic over open water. Indeed, the FAA’s bias towards expansion and disdain for airport neighbors is why municipalities all over the country – including Santa Monica, Phoenix, and Maryland – have sued the FAA for relief.
We commend the Latimer administration’s commitment to carefully vet claims that airport development reduces the number of flights. However, we encourage the administration to go further and also carefully vet claims that development brings significant economic benefits, especially in the residential areas of the county most affected by the airport. The environmental and health harms of air traffic are clear and have been described in peer reviewed scientific journals. Any economic benefits, on the other hand, are far less clear and have not been independently studied. Most of the FBOs at the airport don’t even pay property taxes to our towns and schools.
The county should look to East Hampton as a model for how to pursue policies that restore residents’ quality of life. Like Westchester, East Hampton is home to a primarily general aviation airport and has the same problems we do with aircraft noise. East Hampton stopped taking FAA grant money in 2001 in order to give themselves more policy flexibility. In 2015, they enacted a mandatory curfew and noise restrictions and defended them all the way to the Supreme Court. They have taken an aggressive stance to rein in scheduled charter operators that function like airlines but are free from regulation. They are undertaking a Part 161 application to win approval of binding noise and operational restrictions from the FAA. These are all actions Westchester County could and should take to reduce the environmental impact of our airport.
Please attend the hearing to show your support and deliver your comment in person, or submit by email to [email protected].