By Juan Soto
It is yet another version of the biblical David vs. Goliath story, and this time the battle is in federal court.
The Eastern Queens Alliance is going to the U.S. Court of Appeals Second District to request that the Port Authority’s plan to expand one of John F. Kennedy International Airport’s runways undergo a full environmental impact study.
“We are just saying that we need to be better neighbors,” said Clyde Vanel, an attorney who represents the federation of civic associations from the southeast Queens alliance.
The Federal Aviation Administration told the Port Authority in March that it found no significant environmental impact from the agency’s plan to widen and extend the runway at JFK. The expansion is needed to comply with federally mandated air safety zones at either end of the tarmac.
But neighbors disagree.
In response, the Eastern Queens Alliance filed court papers to appeal the federal agency’s decision to allow for the expansion.
Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals Second District has to decide if the project, which includes widening the runway by more than 150 feet, needs the full environmental review before hardhats hit the ground.
Vanel said that by next month he will have filed a brief in court arguing about the necessity of completing the environmental study before the airport expansion is constructed.
“Extending the runway means that the airport will be 730 feet closer to the community,” the attorney said. “How is it possible that the project has no significant environmental impact on the community?”
The new tarmac will be constructed toward the 160-acre Idlewild Park.
The Port Authority manages JFK.
“We are hoping the PA does the study” Vanel said. “How come the FAA and the PA didn’t conduct this study yet?”
According to the Eastern Queens Alliance, several studies have shown that if you live within a 6-mile radius of an airport “you may be at risk of dying prematurely from an environmental carcinogen, such as chemicals associated with airports.”
Noise and air pollution coming from jets landing or taking off from the airport are common topics of conversation among southeast Queens residents.
In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the Port Authority to take “a multifaceted, comprehensive series of actions in coordination with local communities” to address noise at JFK and LaGuardia airports.
Port Authority Director Thomas Bosco said at the time of Cuomo’s announcement that the two-state agency “understands it must strive to be a good neighbor in the communities where its airports are located, and we will seek noise mitigation with the FAA where possible.”
Vanel admits the court fight is an uphill battle.
“I am just one lawyer fighting the FAA,” he said. “But it’s a fight worth fighting for the community.”
Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.