‘The format was not workable’: Residents blast LaGuardia Airport AirTrain’s public workshop in East Elmhurst

Max Parrott/QNS

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held the first of two days of public forums on its plan to construct an automated AirTrain system from the Willets Point Long-Island Railroad station to the LaGaurdia (LGA) terminals at the LGA Marriott Hotel.

The June 5 meeting was held as a workshop where FAA representatives stood along a row of posters explaining the environmental review process and displaying the possible alternatives to the FAA’s $1.5 billion plan.

Community organizers who oppose the AirTrain plan criticized the agency’s decision to avoid a public hearing-style forum and questioned the noticeable attendance of union members in the cramped space –many of whom, they claimed, were not from Queens.

The activists believed that these decisions were intentionally engineered to limit the amount of community feedback that was committed to the record.

The FAA denied those allegations, maintaining that it has used a workshop approach across most of its environmental reviews for the past decade.

Andrew Brooks, the regional environmental program manager, said that forum allows the agency to have a more active role in taking feedback because they’re not just listening but “engaging” with residents.

James Carriero, a lawyer with the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association, argued that the FAA made no formal announcement directing people to the stenographer tables where their comments would be committed to the record. The layout encouraged residents to spend most of their time speaking to FAA representatives in conversations that were not part of the formal record, he said.

“They’re missing out on comments from the community. And if you had a situation where a person was speaking at a microphone, it would impart information to other members who would then come up with additional comments,” Carriero said.

The narrow convention hall was packed for the first hour before suddenly emptying out for the later half. Tension broke out when a resident confronted union workers from the Central Labor Council who were standing in front of the stations that they were preventing others from speaking with the FAA representatives.

“Where do you live?” the resident asked a member of the union huddle. “I live in New York,” he answered. “See that’s an evasive answer,” the resident responded.

“Someone packed the room with workers from various unions,” said Carriero. “Does it matter to them whether they’re working on an AirTrain from Willets Point or an AirTrain from Astoria? What’s their stake in this and why are they here?”

The public hearing is the first step in the environmental review and an opportunity for the public to voice potential impacts of the proposed project and alternatives to be considered.

The AirTrain is being proposed as a way to combat congestion getting to and from Laguardia. The annual average travel time has gone from 36 to 43 minutes from 2014 to 2017. More than half of LGA passengers going to and from Manhattan are traveling to and from Midtown. Around 12 percent of all passengers are coming from and going to points in Queens.

The opponents to the plan include environmentalists like Riverkeeper who are concerned the plan will pose obstacles to their attempts to clean up Flushing Bay as well as neighbors in East Elmhurst and beyond who are concerned that the plan will negatively impact their quality of life.

The list of potential potential alternatives to the FAA’s plan include extending the N or W train from Astoria, a new ferry line, more buses, and alternatives to the Port Authority’s primary plan for the AirTrain, which would construct a raised platform traveling along the Flushing Bay Promenade.

Residents can visit lgaaccesseis.com to look through the FAA’s proposed plans and submit formal comments until 5 p.m. June 17. Another public form will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 6 at the LGA Marriott Hotel, 102-05 Ditmars Blvd., East Elmhurst.