County Planning Board to discuss new Airport Master Plan

A meeting regarding the new Airport Master Plan is being held by the Westchester County Planning Board at:

8:30am on Tuesday, October 2 in the airport’s 2nd floor conference room

Please attend and make a public comment. The below draft Request for Proposals (“RFP”) states the objectives and the scope of work to be conducted by the consultant tasked with writing the new Airport Master Plan.

rfp master plan

We need real change

We believe the RFP does not reflect input from public hearings over the summer showing that the current environmental impact of the airport is unacceptable. As written, the RFP does not represent the significant revamp of the previous master plan that is badly needed and was promised by the Latimer administration. Indeed, the RFP specifies that the consultant “shall rely on the recommendations included in the 2017 Master Plan” when evaluating increases to airport capacity. Those recommendations are precisely what was wrong with the previous master plan. They were developed and selected without public input and without consideration for whether capacity expansion and increased flights reflected the desires of the public.

At his public hearings, Westchester County residents made the case to County Executive Latimer that we need a smaller airport with fewer flights and less environmental impact. This RFP does not seem to honor those demands. Instead, it appears to represent only small adjustments to the disastrous master plan that was submitted. We are greatly disappointed and hope that residents will join us in requesting that the Latimer administration take the lead in charting a future for the airport that minimizes environmental impacts to make it a good neighbor.

Environmental impacts need greater prioritization

Task 1 of the RFP is to “evaluate the airport as a unique resource and economic generator for the county and region,” and specifically calls on the consultant to “identify steps necessary to retain or attract economic activity.” Unfortunately, past experience has shown that increased economic activity at the airport often comes at the expense of the environment, including air, water, and noise pollution that are borne disproportionately by specific communities.

We have discussed how the previous Airport Master Plan was deeply flawed and ignored the environment. However, the advertisement soliciting bids for that master plan had high aspirations. It described airport efforts to reduce noise levels and specified that “the Consultant must consider these sensitive issues surrounding the airport and tailor the new Airport Master Plan with these unique circumstances in mind.” It went on to call for the consultant to “always keep the environment, storm water management, water and air quality, and noise abatement in mind throughout the entire process.”

By contrast, the RFP before us now does not have such high aspirations. It mentions the voluntary curfew, but does not specifically identify noise reduction as a goal. Instead, the only mention of noise is for evaluation of “the noise monitoring program at the airport and mak[ing] recommendations for improvement.” It is unclear whether the task is to improve the noise monitoring program or the noise impacts of the airport. The air pollution impacts of the airport are not mentioned at all. While Task 3 of the RFP is to “evaluate and develop alternatives to continue to improve environmental performance at the airport,” it frames environmental protection as an equal task to economic performance and operational efficiency rather than as a guiding principle for the entire document.

To be sure, the previous Airport Master Plan fell well short of its stated goals to keep the environment in mind throughout the entire process. That plan completely ignored its environmental impacts, papering over them with unsupported and unlikely assertions that there would be no negative environmental impacts. However, we hope and expect that the Latimer administration will at least specifically identify significant, measurable reductions in air, water, and noise pollution as fundamental goals of their new master plan.

Increases in capacity

A challenge at Westchester County Airport is that federal law precludes the county from restricting the type, timing, volume, or flight paths of aircraft using the airport. Thus, the county must not increase the overall capacity of the airport, because this will increase the airport’s environmental impact. The Board of Legislators understood this dynamic when, in 2003, they passed Resolution 245-2003 stating that “the policy of the Westchester County Board of Legislators is and continues to be one of supporting no increase in the total capacity of the Airport’s runways, taxiways, ramps, gates, hangars, terminal, motor vehicle parking areas, or access roads, in order that we may protect our fragile environment, including the drinking water for almost nine million people.”

The RFP does not reflect this reality. Task 2 specifies that the consultant shall “improve operational safety and efficiency of the airport, including facility modifications and modernizations as necessary.”

Operational safety and efficiency is code for an expansion in capacity. The airport is adequately safe today – over 150,000 takeoffs and landings occur each year without incident. The airport is certainly efficient today – during peak times, an aircraft lands or takes off every 1 to 2 minutes. This rate of operations makes many homes intolerable under an assault of constant noise. Increasing the operational efficiency of the airport would mean making a higher rate of operations with larger aircraft possible.

We can draw an analogy to roads. A two-lane country road would certainly be safer and more efficient if it were developed into an eight-lane interstate. But this would undoubtedly increase traffic and cause significant environmental damage, including air, water, and noise pollution.

Development in the Kensico Reservoir watershed

The RFP calls for “alternative re-development opportunities for the National Guard Area” with special attention to “economic benefits.” The National Guard Area refers to the northern end of the airport, which lies in the highly sensitive Kensico Reservoir watershed. The previous master plan called for the construction of aircraft hangars, aircraft parking areas, rental car storage, and car parking in this area. That development would likely have had significant negative effects on the Kensico Reservoir. Redevelopment of this area should be anathema. Instead, this section of the airport should be left fallow in order to minimize impacts on the drinking water supply for over 9 million people in Westchester and New York City.


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