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FAA approves JFK runway plan

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Washington has given the Port Authority the go-ahead on a plan to rehabilitate a runway at JFK Airport, but those in adjacent neighborhoods opposed to the construction said they intend to appeal the decision.

The Federal Aviation Administration told the Port Authority March 10 it found no significant environmental impact from the agency’s plan to widen and extend runway 4L/22R 728 feet closer toward Idlewild Park in order to build federally mandated safety zones at either end of the tarmac.

“Given your desire to implement this project in the very near future,” the FAA wrote, the Port Authority should make a public notice of the decision “as soon as possible.”

The PA, which is planning to begin construction next month and wrap up near the end of 2015, published a notice in a Queens weekly newspaper last week of the FAA’s decision and a link to the website where it will be available until mid-May.

Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the environmental-steward group Eastern Queens Alliance, has been skeptical of the proposal since its inception. In an area that has long been beleaguered by low-flying planes, she said, even a slight increase in airport noise has to be taken in context.

“They say their model shows it’s not a significant impact, but in a community already overburdened by noise, to say a little bit more is not going to impact you doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “We are not happy with the decision. We have 60 days from March 14 to file an appeal and we’re really going to be moving in that direction.”

It has been a turbulent take-off for the runway rehabilitation project ever since the Port Authority made public notice in May 2012 of its environmental evaluation of the plan.

The 30-day public comment period on the study, which said that moving planes closer to residential neighborhoods in southeast Queens would result in an imperceptible increase in noise, closed without discussion, and after environmental activists and civic leaders accused the Port Authority of trying to quietly slip the study through, the agency agreed to reopen the comment period in October.

As the agency evaluated the public input and waited to submit its revised draft to the FAA, the city Parks Department went ahead in the fall of 2013 and tagged some 800 trees in Idlewild Park that would have to be either trimmed or removed and replaced if the extension were approved.

This, once again, drew ire from the airport’s neighbors. When the PA came back with its revised draft last fall, it had scrapped parts of the plan that would have brought aircraft in lower over the park and residential neighborhoods.

In its notice to the agency last month, the FAA said approval of the construction project is contingent on those mitigating measures.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:51 pm, March 27, 2014
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