By Joe Anuta
A group opposing the city and federal government over construction of a College Point garbage facility near LaGuardia Airport has a policy of keeping its donors anonymous, leading some community members to question who is driving the media blitz about bird strikes.
Friends of LaGuardia Airport Inc. is a nonprofit registered with New York state that has attempted, through advocacy and legal challenges, to put the brakes on the North Shore Marine Transfer Station, a proposed garbage collection point for the eastern half of queens.
The group contends the facility, where trucks would drop off refuse to be sorted and then packed into barges and floated out of the borough, would attract winged creatures in search of food and thus increase the likelihood of a fatal plane crash due to bird strikes.
The facility is less than 5,000 feet from the end of one of the runways, and the group’s message has been widely covered in the New York City press.
Friends of LaGuardia Airport is led by Ken Paskar, a pilot who previously worked with the Federal Aviation Administration on mitigating safety issues, but is now leading the charge against the federal agency.
Paskar has a policy of cloaking the identities of donors to the nonprofit. The policy, he said, is designed to protect contributors from potential retribution from the FAA or from the city government — retribution he contends is real and has already been exacted on him.
“I’ve got to protect everybody else,” Paskar said. “This way, the only person anybody can go after is me.”
Before Friends of LaGuardia, Paskar was on the FAA Safety Team as a volunteer who acted as a liaison between the aviation community and the agency to try and find solutions to thorny safety issues. In that capacity, the pilot began questioning the safety of the proposed facility beginning in 2009, when the file landed on his desk.
As his opposition to the facility became stronger, he began to sense resistance from the FAA, he said, and he was eventually booted off the team in 2010.
Paskar also claims FAA brass instructed the administration’s legal team to go after a close friend’s flight school due to the owner’s association with Paskar. The Friends of LaGuardia head contends that the FAA wrongfully prosecuted the business for an alleged infraction on federal flight rules. Paskar contends these two episodes justify concealing the source of the funds.
Because Friends of LaGuardia Airport is a relatively new nonprofit — it was first incorporated in April 2011, according to state records — it does not have tax returns on file with the Internal Revenue Service or the state Department of State. And even when those documents become available, Paskar is not required by law to disclose who gives him money.
That has led others to speculate about alternative motives for Friends of LaGuardia’s opposition to the facility.
James Cervino, a marine scientist and chairman of Community Board 7’s Committee on the Environment, recently alluded to other reasons why Friends of LaGuardia might want to keep its financers private.
Other companies who might have a financial interest in seeing the facility fail might be bankrolling the nonprofit under the guise of safety.
“It’s all about real estate. It’s all about who is going to be getting this land,” Cervino said at a recent meeting of the College Point Civic/Taxpayers Association.
Cervino’s suspicions are echoed in a 2009 report in the weekly real estate publication Crain’s, which ties a lawyer for the then-nascent resistance to the transfer station to Tully Construction, a large Queens firm that deals in transferring garbage.
Tully dismissed any involvement with Friends of LaGuardia, citing the fact that the city is buying out part of his nearby business in the future. And Paskar denied any profit motive, contending that he owns no property and is not getting paid to go to bat for developers or any other special interests.
“I’m not going to talk about where I get my money from, but I can tell you whatever money that I get is for the use of this project and I have no business interests in Queens,” he said.
Paskar said he would not discriminate against anyone who wanted to see the station moved, even if they had purely financial motives for doing so.
“There are some people who are going to be opposed to it for the right reasons, but I’m not the one who is going to judge,” he said, “as long as people are not doing anything illegal or immoral.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.