FAA Dismisses Bird Hazard At Trash Site

March 9, 2009 at 2:27 am Leave a comment

Just weeks after geese caused U.S. Air Flight 1549 to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River, the New York City Dept. of Sanitation is getting ready to move forward with a plan that will bring nearly 2,700 tons of garbage a day to a College Point transfer station 2,200 feet from the end of one of the busiest runways in the world.

The Federal Aviation Administration has said that the height and location of the building will not cause a significant hazard to planes taking off or landing at LaGuardia Airport, without mentioning the agency’s own warning against placing this kind of waste transfer station within 10,000 feet of a runway because of concern for bird strikes.

Bids are due March 12 for the construction of the $125 million facility, to be located at 31st Avenue and 122nd Street. Closed Sanitation trucks filled with garbage would line up as much as 17 deep to enter the facility. Once inside, the trucks would tip their load into a chute where compactors would then press the waste into containers. The containers, each holding about 22 tons of waste, would then be loaded onto barges capable of carrying as many as 48 containers – or more than a million pounds of containerized garbage. The barges, which would operate an average of three runs a day, would float the trash around the airport and out toward New York Harbor.

Originally, the project met opposition from both the FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport. The FAA ruled that a facility taller than 48 feet would exceed obstruction standards and could have an adverse effect on navigation equipment. The PANYNJ said the site “would clearly be a hazard to aircraft.”

Sanitation reduced the height of the structure from 110 to 100 feet, and both the FAA and PANYNJ changed their tune. The FAA issued a determination in September 2008 that there would be no adverse effect on aircraft or navigation systems based on the new height. The PANYNJ reversed its course as well.

“We were concerned that [the transfer station] could be an attractant for birds,” said PANYNJ spokesman Pasquale DiFulco. “The City addressed both concerns – not only the height, but that the containers would be covered.”

Both the PANYNJ and the Dept. of Sanitation say that the closed containers would not attract birds.

“They’re sealed, and they don’t leak,” Sanitation spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins said. “The New York City Department of Sanitation has not considered moving or abandoning the North Shore MTS site for fear of bird incidents. The new North Shore MTS, which will be a fully containerized enclosed system, will not have waste open to the air at any time. The waste will arrive at the facility inside Sanitation collection trucks, be transferred indoors, and leave the facility in sealed containers. As such, there will be no exposed waste to attract birds.”

The FAA’s own directive, from August 2007, states that “The FAA discourages the development of waste disposal and other facilities located within the 10,000-foot” Runway Protection Zone, specifically because of the “hazardous wildlife attractants.” The transfer station would be located more than 7,500 feet inside the zone.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters dismissed any concern about bird strikes, citing the fact that the facility would be closed, that the exchange of trash would not happen in the open air and that the barges would carry sealed containers. He said any tie between this facility and the incident of Flight 1549 would be far-fetched.

Community Board 7, which has oversight of the area of the transfer station, has also come to terms with the project, according to Chairman Eugene Kelty.

The board gave approval only on condition of the site’s height being changed to meet FAA and PANYNJ requirements, which it has. CB 7 also asked that trucks only use 31st Avenue, rather than side streets through College Point, which could be used as shortcuts.

When local members of Congress caught wind of the plan a few years ago, the entire Queens delegation sent now-former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey a letter, calling the plan, “at best, foolhardy.”

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman sent a follow-up letter to the acting FAA Administrator this Wednesday. “Even from a layman’s vantage point, such as mine, I find it difficult to believe that with garbage trucks lined up, waiting to dump their trash at the facility or with trash raised 100 feet in the air, hungry birds would not be eagerly gathering about and circling above,” he wrote, adding “I continue to be greatly concerned that the MTS will be a natural attraction for birds and increase the threat of birdstrikes to planes using Runway 13-31 east of LaGuardia Airport.”

By Brian M. Rafferty
Queens Tribune

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Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Queens, Working Waterfront. Tags: , , , , .

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