JFK cargo facility moves ahead despite opposition

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While the air cargo industry is suffering from business lost when planes were grounded after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, one air cargo development group is planning to build a controversial storage facility at Kennedy Airport.

The $100 million warehouse construction project was harshly criticized by southeast Queens environmental groups because of its location on 25.4 acres of undeveloped land within Idlewild Park along Rockaway Boulevard. But it was eventually approved by the City Council earlier this year.

International Airport Centers, the Chicago-based air cargo development group building the storage and office spaces, re-evaluated the project after the assault on the World Trade Center but decided to push forward, said Jacob Citrin, the company’s managing director.

The air cargo industry was paralyzed for several days after the World Trade Center disaster, because the nation’s airports were closed.

“In the near term, the industry will be heavily impacted,” Citrin said. Nevertheless, he said John F. Kennedy International Airport would continue to need air cargo storage in the long run.

Workers began clearing the site last month in preparation for construction of the first two buildings, which should be completed by the fall of next year, Citrin said.

Two other structures will be built as the market allows, creating a total of 530,000 square feet of storage and office space, Citrin said. Upon completion, the warehouses should employ some 1,000 people, not including construction workers.

The air cargo industry is vital to the economy of Queens, but a recent survey found that Kennedy was having trouble competing with other airports because of inadequate and antiquated cargo facilities.

“Studies have showed an increased demand for air cargo near JFK,” said Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the city Economic Development Corporation. “This property will not only provide that, it will provide a site away from residential homes.”

Part of the plan for the new warehouses calls for Rockaway Boulevard to be renamed International Airport Center Boulevard between 182nd Street and Brookville Boulevard, which local residents refer to as “Snake Road” because it winds through wetlands.

The Eastern Queens Alliance, a group of five civic associations from Laurelton, Rosedale and Springfield Gardens, expressed concern at public meetings that the project would negatively affect the environment, possibly causing traffic jams and flooding.

The alliance also requested environmental studies on air, land and water pollution in the area and had hoped to have some park space set aside for a children’s playground, said Rosedale Civic Association President Jim English, whose group is part of the alliance.

The EDC addressed part of the environmental issues, maintaining that the park is not untainted and agreeing to allocate about 100 acres of land in the area as protected wetlands.

Citrin said he believes that all the community’s concerns were addressed, but Fred Kress, who is involved in the Rosedale Civic Association and the Eastern Queens Alliance, said many issues have not been resolved.

Members of the alliance met with City Councilwoman Juanita Watkins (D-Laurelton) and a representative of International Airport Centers last month, but were told nothing could be discussed until the project’s plans were finalized, Kress said.

“They still haven’t addressed our issues as far as we are concerned,” Kress said.

Kress said he is not entirely against the project but would like to have had problems ironed out before the project was approved by the city.

“I’m all for progress and if they had gone ahead and met with us, I believe we could have worked it out,” Kress said.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Updated 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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