Proposed JFK Expansion Stirs Controversy with Environmentalists

April 13, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

NEW YORK—A recent proposal to fill in about 400 acres of the Jamaica Bay wetlands for more runway space at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport is not flying well with environmental groups, local residents, and members of the local fishing and boating community.

The plan was one of six proposals made in the 2011 Regional Plan Association (RPA) report to manage increased demand in air travel and to remedy the current constrained airport capacity in the region.

BAY WATCH: An Airbus A380 operated by Air France lands at John F. Kennedy Airport. A recent report to expand the airport`s capacity includes proposals to fill in parts on Jamaica Bay, local fishers and environmentalists are opposed to the idea. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
BAY WATCH: An Airbus A380 operated by Air France lands at John F. Kennedy Airport. A recent report to expand the airport`s capacity includes proposals to fill in parts on Jamaica Bay, local fishers and environmentalists are opposed to the idea. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Since the release of the RPA report, “Upgrading to World Class: The Future of the New York Region’s Airports” in January, controversy has been brewing and opposition to the proposal has been gaining momentum.

On March 17, leaders from 21 environmental, recreational, and civic groups signed and sent a letter to Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward voicing their opposition to the proposed plan.

The letter stated that the groups do not oppose efforts to increase the region’s aviation capacity, but urged the Port Authority to “consider other available alternatives for meeting the region’s airport capacity needs.”

It stated that permanently filling in a portion of the Jamaica Bay to accommodate JFK runway expansion would have an adverse impact on the bay. NYC Park Advocates, a parks advocacy group, describes the bay not only as the city’s ecological crown jewel but a wetland and estuary of national significance.

The letter highlighted the escalation of intrusive commercial jet noise, wildlife conflicts with aviation safety, and water pollution from the airport. It cited the likelihood for an increase in the runoff from the millions of gallons of toxic de-icing fluids used each winter that are currently being discharged directly into the bay.

On Thursday, April 7, the Jamaica Bay Task Force Group (JBTF) hosted its first town hall meeting in response to the RPA proposal.

The event, attended by nearly 150 individuals, provided city officials, scientists, and numerous community and advocacy group leaders with the opportunity to express their reasons for refuting the runway expansion into the bay.

“One of the major shortcomings of the report was that actual users, including environmentalists and civic organizations were not consulted,” said Geoffrey Croft, president, NYC Park Advocates.

At Thursday’s meeting, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) stated that he had spoken with both the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward.

Details of the conversation were unavailable, as Weiner’s media spokesperson did not respond as of press time.

However, Weiner was quoted as saying, “This would require an act of Congress and I am not going to let that happen.”

Likewise, Councilman Erik Ulrich opposes the plan. “There is no way we are going to let this happen in this community or in any other community. We cannot let this move forward,” said Ulrich.

The groups’ claim that the report overstated projections for future air travel demand, fails to address the airport land access issues, fails to seek the use of other airports such as MacArthur and Stewart, fails to recognize the impact on the surrounding environment, and fails to acknowledge previous studies, including the RPA 1973 report that rejected a proposal to fill in portions of Jamaica Bay.

Many were particularly upset that the report described a portion of the bay that borders JFK as a “‘dead’ section called Grassy Bay.”

Filling in the bay for runway expansion is not an option, said John Tanacredi, chairman of the Department of Earth & Marine Sciences at Dowling College, Kramer Science Center.