Rockland County (New York) Files Objections to New Flight Path


Rockland County yesterday filed several objections to a federal plan that would bring hundreds of new flights over the county on the grounds that the noise impacts were underestimated and weren't reliably measured. Holland & Knight, the law firm hired by the county last month to look into whether the Federal Aviation Administration violated noise mitigation laws while crafting its five-state airspace redesign plan, submitted 50 pages of arguments and comments, County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said.

The firm concluded that the FAA did not comply with congressional actions and U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding noise mitigation requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, Vanderhoef said.

The county has been seeking reasons to invalidate the FAA's final environmental impact statement, which was submitted Aug. 3. The county had to file its objections by Tuesday, when the 30-day comment period closes. "What we have been saying, these professional lawyers have confirmed," Vanderhoef said. Holland & Knight's legal fees were estimated about $500,000, according to Vanderhoef.

The FAA is proposing a new flight path to curb delays into airports around New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. By 2011, an average of 300 to 400 flights a day could travel over the county at 6,000 to 8,000 feet, raising noise levels for about 11,000 residents.

There were several different objections raised by the lawyers:

A final decision on the FAA's plan is expected early this month. FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the agency has received five comments to date. "We're going to review them and answer them as part of the final document," Peters said.

The county wants the FAA to go back and change its redesign plan or, at the very least, re-examine it. Vanderhoef said the county could bring a lawsuit if the FAA opted not to reconsider.

Last week, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said the town would contribute money if a lawsuit became necessary to stop the FAA's airspace plan. Orangetown Supervisor Thom Kleiner has also said his town would join any legal proceedings.

Federal lawmakers also are continuing to keep up the pressure on the FAA to reconsider. Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, to detail his concerns with some of the recommendations in the FAA's environmental review.

Schumer, who has called on the FAA to fix airport congestion in the past, called its plan "premature" and sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters with several questions that he said would address issues and concerns raised by Rockland and Westchester residents. They concerned raising the altitude ceiling to mitigate noise; costs and benefits to shifting the flight pattern; whether local elected officials, residents and media were contacted; and what FAA planners concluded regarding the option of flight patterns along the Hudson River.

"After multiple requests to the FAA, the agency has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the concerns of residents in communities adversely affected by the Airspace Redesign Plan," Schumer said in a statement. "It is my hope, on behalf of the residents of Rockland and Westchester counties, that these questions are answered before any implementation."

Earlier last month, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., sent a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey urging the FAA to "strongly consider" concerns of Rockland residents. "While it is encouraging to see the FAA has finally opened a dialogue with the people of Rockland County, it is extremely important that they give their concerns a deliberate and thorough review," Clinton said in a statement.

On July 30, more than 1,000 Rockland residents attended a meeting with FAA officials in Hillburn. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, organized the town hall meeting. On Sunday, nearly 100 people protested the FAA plan in Nanuet. The Pearl River organizer vowed to hold more rallies in the county, as well as at FAA headquarters in New York and Washington, D.C.

Source: The Journal News