Aviation roundtable sparks anger

By Kelsey Durham

An ongoing community fight to reduce airplane noise throughout the metropolitan area was fueled by heated tempers Tuesday night at the second aviation roundtable held near LaGuardia Airport in East Elmhurst.

Residents and elected representatives from Queens and Long Island met with officials from the Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration at the LaGuardia Marriott Hotel, at 102-05 Ditmars Blvd., to continue discussing the issue of increased plane noise that residents say is burdening their lives and lowering their property values.

After the last set of meetings in June, members of the group Queens Quiet Skies were left unhappy with the way the governor-mandated roundtable meetings were being run, a sentiment that carried over into this week’s gathering.

Janet McEneaney, president of QQS, said her group is still fighting to be given a vote on whether to hold three roundtables, one for each of the metropolitan area’s major airports, or join them into one gathering, which she and some other advocates are in favor of.

But despite the pressure from the community to take a vote on whether to join the meetings together, the Port Authority continued Tuesday to tell residents that the roundtables will remain separate.

But McEneaney said the Port Authority does not have the power to make that decision alone.

“If we have a vote, I will live with whatever the result is, but I object to the idea of the Port Authority making this decision unilaterally,” she said. “They have no right to do that.”

Advocates say their main concern with the roundtables so far is that the Port Authority has taken over the discussions and is not allowing the meetings to be run the way other cities across the country facilitate theirs. Residents also voiced objections after the Port Authority said it would not allow them to have input on who the agency hires to run its noise office and to conduct the Part 150 noise study Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered last year in the same legislation that mandated the roundtables.

“This is almost just another town hall meeting, not a roundtable,” said Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance and a member of Community Board 7. “That’s not what it should be, It’s time for some organization and structure because without that, this is doomed for failure.”

One item on Tuesday’s agenda was to begin constructing a set of bylaws for the LaGuardia roundtables, but the meeting adjourned before that discussion took place because community advocates refused to move forward out of fear that creating those bylaws would mean they have accepted the split into three roundtables without being given a vote.

McEneaney told the Port Authority she was “sick and tired” of having to ask the agency’s permission to take a vote, which she said she should not have to do, but the Port Authority refused to budge.

“The Port Authority is going to do three roundtables and I highly suggest we move forward and actually talk,” said Ian Van Praagh, business negotiations manager for the Port Authority. “We can continue to bicker or we can move forward.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) argued in support of his constituents, saying having three roundtables could be problematic if the bylaws of each or the decisions they make conflict with each other. He said without having everyone involved in the issue gathered in one room together, the roundtables were going nowhere.

“We did not fight to get to this point to have a watered-down version of the roundtables or of the Part 150,” Avella said. “We want to have input. Let’s get it right the first time, because anything less than that and you’ll have the biggest fight on your hands that you’ve ever had.”

McEneaney said that despite pressure from the Port Authority, she and other advocates would continue to fight for their fair say in the decision-making process.

“In nine months, the Port Authority has managed to get together something that in no way resembles a real roundtable,” she said. “We have to go back to Gov. Cuomo and make sure we get what we were promised.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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