Many county residents voiced their opposition to the recently released draft master plan for the Westchester County Airport at a public hearing held at the Westchester County Center on the evening of July 27.
Developed by aviation consulting firm DY Consultants, the master plan calls for a $462 million investment in a number of airport projects to be completed in a series of phases over the next 15 years. Those projects include the development of a new U.S. Customs building, additional parking areas and the construction of a new jet hangar.
“This document is a planning document,” said Dennis Yap, president of DY Consultants. “It’s not an engineering document. It’s not a construction document.”
During their presentation, officials from DY Consultants assured residents the proposal would not expand the airport, would respect the passenger cap of the terminal use agreement and was intended to “refresh the airport and enhance the passenger experience.”
But many of the more than 150 people in attendance were unconvinced and a number of them spoke out during the Garden City-based company’s presentation, demanding to know how long the presentation would last before the public had a chance to speak, and to tell officials to “hurry up” with the presentation. At one point, Westchester County Public Works and Transportation Commissioner Vincent F. Kopicki threatened to end the hearing if the disruptions continued.
“Your plan ignores logic, it ignores the environment and it ignores the basic decency of providing honest services paid for by the taxpayers of this county,” said Jonathan Wang, chairman of Citizens for a Responsible County Airport. “You should be ashamed of your document and we will not stop fighting until your plan goes in the garbage where it belongs.”
Citizens criticized the master plan for failing to respect the airport’s passenger limit of 240 passengers per half hour and its overnight curfew.
“As this master plan should be a guide for future development in accordance with its vision, it seems wrong that the document anticipates increased air traffic and the need for facility expansion and additional gates,” said Rye Brook Village Trustee David M. Heiser. “This is an excessive and expensive way to plan for the future.”
Though Yap said any project suggested in the master plan would still need to go through an environmental review process prior to construction, residents questioned the plan’s impact on areas surrounding the airport, particularly the Kensico Reservoir.
“Environmental protection was barely an afterthought in DY’s plan,” Wang said.
The county paid DY Consultants $1.4 million to craft the master plan, which has been in the works since 2013. The last airport master plan dates to 1987.
The public hearing came on the eve of the due date with the county for bids for a private operator and manager of the airport.
Though county officials have claimed the master plan and finding a private operator for the airport are separate issues, a number of those who spoke during the public hearing also voiced their opposition to privatization.
Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino in November announced a $140 million, 40-year revenue-sharing lease with California-based Oaktree Capital Management. Some members of the county Board of Legislators balked at the administration’s plan, criticizing the lack of a competitive bid process and calling the deal a gimmick to balance an unbalanced budget.
In April, legislators issued a request for proposals from potential private operators for the airport. The deadline for those proposals was originally July 14, but was extended two weeks to July 28.
Those plans have already lost the support of Republican County Legislator David Gelfarb, who spoke out against the 40-year lease term during a rally held in opposition to privatization plans earlier this month.