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Community Board Gives Green Light To Put AirTrain On Track – QNS.com

Community Board Gives Green Light To Put AirTrain On Track

The controversial AirTrain — the light rail system which the Port Authority is planning to connect JFK Airport with downtown Jamaica — got a major boost back on track last week when the third and final Community Board approval was given to the plan.
Despite a raucous public debate before Community Board 12 that brought out more opponents than proponents, the Board voted 26-8 last Friday to give their okay to the train. Community Boards 9 and 10, the other two Boards that would be affected by the proposed AirTrain also had previously given their endorsements despite rigorous community opposition.
Most of the community opposition centers from the plan to build the light rail train on an elevated track that would wind down the center median of the Van Wyck Expwy. Local residents believe that both during construction — which is expected to take up to two years — and during operation the el train will adversely affect their community by endangering the stability of their homes’ foundations as well as cause noise and damage to trees and streets.
Prior to last Friday’s meeting at Board 12, large groups of protesters marched in front of the St. Albans Family Life Center carrying signs saying "El-No," and "What’s Under The Port Authority’s Bid? The Promoters Bribe Well." The sign alluded to the belief expressed by many of the demonstrators that the Board would vote for the project despite the community’s opposition because the Port Authority has been showering "sweeteners," or local improvements before Board members in order to gain their votes for approval.
Inside the hall there was a war of the t-shirts with protesters wearing "Stop the El" shirts and a contingent of union workers wearing "AirTrain: union Laborers On Board" shirts. The union shirts had been supplied by the Port Authority to the more than 100 workers who believe the AirTrain project will provide many jobs to their unions. The protesters shirts, meanwhile, were supplied by CANT (Coalition Against the Nowhere Train), a collection of over 100 Queens civic groups which is being heavily funded by the national lobbying group for airports which is vigorously fighting the AirTrain project. CANT heavily promoted attendance at the Friday meeting. Spotted in the crowd was Sid Davidoff, a power broker attorney and lobbyist hired by the Port Authority to gather support for AirTrain among local Community Board members. The presence of these two powerful agencies, each spending large sums of money to influence the approval process, clearly demonstrates the high-stakes politics involved in this $1 billion project.
The Board 12 meeting had originally planned to vote on the AirTrain at a first meeting held two weeks ago. When a large crowd jammed into the meeting room to voice their feelings toward the project, Board Chairman James Davis told the crowd that the Board’s 40 members would not vote on the AirTrain at that meeting because of "time constraints," a position that angered many of the protesters who felt the Board was buying time to get enough votes for approval.
The meeting was rescheduled for last Friday, and again hundreds jammed the meeting room. When Davis stopped one woman in the audience from making her statement the crowd chanted "Let her speak, let her speak."
After the vote to approve, Board officials attempted to calm the angry audience by telling them that the Board, by approving the AirTrain, has leveraged to extract certain conditions and amenities from the Authority that safeguard the communities to be affected by the project. In fact, the Board did demand that the P.A. insure all of the homeowners for any damage caused during construction (including immediate payments), that it will hire minority workers for the project, provide security and repair any water pipes damaged during construction. Boards 9 and 10 also extracted similar promises form the P.A. before giving their approval.
Carlisle Towery, the president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation said after the vote that his organization "was very pleased by Queens Community Board 12’s approval of the ULURP action for AirTrain, which followed approvals by Community Boards 9 and 10. We deeply appreciate the consideration and courage of the Board members and we applaud their leadership and long view about improving their neighborhoods and the downtown that serves them."
"All of us recognize that the residents living along the Van Wyck Expwy. will encounter disruption during periods of construction. The Port Authority, the contractor and elected officials have given firm assurances they will work to keep problems to a minimum," he continued.
"AirTrain will strengthen JFK Airport and bring economic opportunity to Jamaica Center and southeast Queens. We are gratified that these broad and long-range benefits were the determining factors in the votes and that the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ philosophy did not prevail," Towery said.
The Boards approvals are advisory only under the City’s complicated ULURP program. The city Planning Commission and the city Council will now hold hearings and approval by both will be the ultimate go-ahead. Meanwhile the Port Authority has already broken ground for AirTrain and is advertising it on billboards in subways and buses despite the fact that it has yet to receive final approval.

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