Valley Stream residents stormed out of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1790 hall on Merrick Road on Oct. 24 after Hersh Parekh, the director of downstate regional affairs in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, announced that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would not answer questions about plane-noise concerns at a presentation about John F. Kennedy International Airport’s renovations.
“This program is about what’s happening on the ground,” Parekh explained.
Representatives of the Port Authority spoke about a $13 billion plan to renovate the airport, which includes demolishing some terminals and adding more gates. They said they were upgrading the airport’s infrastructure to allow for more passengers as airplanes become larger, without increasing the amount of air traffic.
The Port Authority is also conducting land-use and noise-abatement studies. Officials received more than 50 noise abatement strategies for JFK and have grouped them into three categories, including: increasing the dispersion of the flight tracks, concentrating flight tracks over compatible land and changing operation times or implementing use restrictions.
The Port Authority will hold community meetings at the airport, and intends to open an outreach office in Queens within walking distance of a Long Island Rail Road Station. Port Authority representatives are already studying widening the Van Wyck Expressway and increasing the Air Train’s frequency from the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road station to the airport.
“We are working to make this as seamless as possible,” said Nantasha Williams, the Port Authority’s manager of external affairs and community outreach.
Nassau County minority and women business owners would benefit from the project, according to Justin Bernbach, the Port Authority’s director of government and community relations. He said that Cuomo mandated that at least 30 percent of the construction work be done by minority and women-owned businesses. The Port Authority would also work with such businesses to make sure they were properly certified.
Elizabeth Wellington, the deputy director of the Long Island African-American Chamber of Commerce, said she appreciated the fact that the Port Authority would encourage the use of minority and women-owned businesses. She said she supported the project and did not understand why others would not do the same.
But many Valley Streamers who attended the presentation expected to hear about the repaving of runway 13L, a separate project that would increase air traffic over Valley Stream by 30 percent from April to November. Larry Hoppenhauer, executive director of the Town-Village Aircraft Safety & Noise Abatement Committee, attributed the confusion to the lack of notice about the meeting.
“There was not enough advanced notice, which meant the goals weren’t clear,” Hoppenhauer said. “People came here expecting to talk about noise, not a construction project.”
"The Port Authority was not involved in inviting attendees to the meeting nor were we involved in any efforts to publicize it," Alana Calmi, the Port Authority's senior information officer said in a statement. "While the Port Authority did stick to the specific subject matter that we were asked to present on, we also provided information on other forums through which the agency addresses quality of life issues.”
Valley Stream Mayor Ed Fare said he had only learned about the event from Facebook that morning. He said he knew that the Port Authority planned to discuss the renovations at JFK, but expected the representatives to also address noise concerns about the runway project.
“I know this is about investment in the community,” Fare said, “but you’ve got to consider all factors.”
The next day, he and Malverne Mayor Patricia Ann Norris-McDonald published a letter to the Port Authority expressing their concerns about the runway project.
In the letter, they asked Kathryn Lamond, the manager of the airport’s environmental programs, what safety enhancements would result from the runway repairs, what alternative flight patterns were considered, what positive outcomes they could expect, what would be a realistic timeline for the work’s completion — and whether the Port Authority had considered diverting air traffic.
“As mayors of these respective villages, we have serious concerns about the level of noise that will be produced by the planned re-assignment of air traffic,” Fare and Norris-McDonald wrote, “with the predicted increased number and frequency of flights over Valley Stream and Malverne.” The letter was scheduled to be delivered to the Port Authority on Monday.
This story was updated on Nov. 2 at 12:47 p.m. to add a statement from the Port Authority and to make a correction. A previous version of this story said that the Port Authority had to finish the land-use study before breaking ground on the project, but it can begin working on the project without the land-use study.