Alliance yells mayday over trees near JFK

Alliance yells mayday over trees near JFK
Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

Hundreds of trees are being considered for pruning or removal in Idlewild Park, raising concerns from one southeast Queens environmental group that the Port Authority is trying to push through a controversial plan to extend one of the runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The Port Authority and the city Parks Department have tagged more than 700 trees that lie within two runway protection zones in the park.

“The Federal Aviation Administration’s mandate that runway protection zones be free of obstructions currently requires removal or pruning of nearly 400 trees at Idlewild Park to ensure the safety of people, property and planes within one of JFK Airport’s busy flight paths,” a Port Authority spokesman wrote in an e-mail. “The trees targeted now for removal or pruning are currently aviation hazards.”

The agency has also identified another 325 trees that would be considered for removal or pruning if it gets the go-head for a proposal to extend one of JFK’s runways closer toward the park.

Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the Eastern Queens Alliance, questioned just how much of a hazard the short trees are.

“It’s our contention that this is a ploy to move forward with their plans to get the project approved,” she said. “They’re talking about 722 trees and claiming almost 400 are current obstructions. Quite frankly, none of these trees are more than 40 feet high. If a plane is that low, then that plane is in serious trouble.”

The Port Authority is currently working out a plan to alter runway 4L/22R in order to provide larger safety areas required by the FAA in order to accommodate larger aircraft.

But because the southern end of the runway juts into Jamaica Bay and abuts its federally protected wildlife refuge, the Port Authority is proposing to construct 728 feet of new runway at the northern end of the runway near Idlewild.

In May 2012, the Port Authority released its draft environmental assessment on the proposal and solicited public comment by placing a notice in Newsday, but the 30-day period ended with no comments submitted.

Brown and the alliance caused a stir and accused the agency of trying to discourage the public by posting the notice in the Long Island paper, and the Port Authority reopened the comment period during an October meeting in Springfield Gardens.

The Port Authority needs approval from the FAA on the environmental assessment to move forward with the project.

A Parks Department spokesman said many of the trees tagged in Idlewild are invasive species, and all trees removed will be replaced by native species that have a terminal, mature height below the FAA’s restrictions.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.