Runway rumble

Environmental activists say a proposal to fill in an area roughly two-and-a-half times the size of Governors Island off the coast of John F. Kennedy Airport to build new runways in protected Jamaica Bay would be damaging to sea life, hurt the local fishing industry, and have repercussions as far away as Floyd Bennett Field.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s most drastic plan to reduce bottlenecks at the airport while adding up to 70 flights an hour would install three runways on what is now the bay — a portion of the Gateway National Recreation area — and some think the plan is nuts.

“We’re organizing to fight this lame-brained idea,” said Brighton Beach resident Ida Sanoff, who chairs the marine conservation group Natural Resources Protective Association. “No one in their right mind will let 400 acres of Jamaica Bay be filled in for any reason.”

Even the organization involved with formulating the new runway plan admits to its environmental downside.

The Regional Plan Association, an independent organization that monitors transit issues in the metropolitan area, released a report on Jan. 27 saying that the extra runways would let the Queens’ airport handle millions of additional passengers, but would most likely involve the “disruption to the environment, requiring the Port Authority to regenerate and restore wetlands that have eroded or been eliminated in Jamaica Bay.” The planners also concluded that the fill could destroy marine life near Floyd Bennett Field in Mill Basin, about six miles away.

But environmentalists think things could get much worst — both naturally and financially.

“It will hurt the migratory pattern of birds and fish that breed there and could even weaken the area’s flood protection,” Sanoff said.

A local fisherman agreed.

“The runways will not only hurt our access to the fish, but they’ll take away what the fish survive on,” said Stephen Byrne, who captains chartered fishing boats in Jamaica Bay and is a spokesman for the Fishermen’s Conservation Association. “Airport expansion is important, but recreational fishing is an important industry, too.”

The Port Authority has three additional expansion proposals that are less drastic. One calls for only two additional runways and would fill in about half the amount of Jamaica Bay, and two other plans require little to no fill, but would build runways that can only be navigated by a new, yet-to-be-approved traffic system, according to Regional Plan Association spokesman Jeffery Zupan, who pointed out that approval of the expansion of the airport could take some time.

“Picking the expansion plan to implement will be a political process in which all the stakeholders have to agree, including the Port Authority, the Federal Aviation Administration — and environmental groups,” Zupan said.


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