Hero pilot trashes city waste station near LaGuardia

Hero pilot trashes city waste station near LaGuardia
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Steve Mosco

Opponents of a waste station near LaGuardia Airport have taken to the airwaves with a hero pilot at the helm.

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who safely guided a passenger plane into the Hudson River following a bird strike in 2009, has lent his voice to a radio ad campaign denouncing the construction of the North Shore Marine Transfer Station.

Critics say the waste station, which will be close to a LaGuardia runway near College Point, will attract birds by the thousands and put passenger planes at an increased risk of potentially disastrous bird strikes.

In the radio ads, Sullenberger says the station “will attract birds into the path of oncoming flights, putting thousands of lives at risk, including passengers in the sky and citizens on the ground.”

Ken Paskar, president of Friends of LaGuardia Airport, said Sullenberger lends credibility to the cause.

“This is a world-renowned hero with personal experience dealing with bird strikes,” said Pasker, whose organization was formed last year to oppose the transfer station. “I suspect this is an issue that is very important to Capt. Sully.”

According to Paskar, whose organization sued the city in 2011 to prevent the station from opening, the facility is expected to handle an estimated 3,000 tons of garbage every day — providing a dangerous attraction for hungry birds.

He said the building is already attracting birds, as hundreds can be seen perching on the under-construction facility.

“The facility is already proving to be a hazard during the construction phase,” he said.

Elected officials also joined the fight against the waste station, with state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) calling on the city and the Port Authority to halt plans for the facility.

She said the station, set for completion in 2013, poses an extreme hazard to both air travelers and residents on the ground. According to the assemblywoman, the Federal Aviation Administration has raised concerns about this project on numerous occasions over the last 10 years.

“It is plainly unreasonable that the city would plan to build a waste facility so close to LaGuardia Airport,” she said. “Our goal is to protect Queens families. People are worried about the Sully incident happening again and remember — too vividly — the devastating air tragedy in Queens from 2001. My bill in the Assembly will prohibit building waste transfer stations near airports in heavily populated New York City.”

Meng referred to the 2001 tragedy involving American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed into Belle Harbor shortly after takeoff and resulted in 260 fatalities on board and five on the ground.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) also weighed in, both co-sponsoring Meng’s legislation to block the completion of the facility.

A representative for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office said a waste station operated safely on the same land from 1954 to 2001.

But Paskar shot back at that claim, saying all it takes is one disaster.

“It’s a question of when, not if, there will be a major catastrophe,” he said. “The transfer station will significantly increase the risk.”

Aviation safety has been a hot topic among elected officials recently as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) drafted legislation aimed at making goose removal at John F. Kennedy International Airport easier after a bird strike forced the emergency landing of a Delta Airlines flight bound for Los Angeles.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.