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September 16, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Latimer outlines initiatives for Westchester airport, but privatization plans remain uncertain


A range of new initiatives regarding the Westchester County Airport were announced by County Executive George Latimer this week, from air quality to noise monitoring systems, but the future of its operations remains uncertain.

Though Latimer said he has had discussions with firms that had previously submitted proposals to operate the airport, including Macquarie Infrastructure Corp., he said that “at this point, the dialogue with the board of legislators is informal.”

That dialogue would become more formal, he said, “when and if there is a decision to investigate one or more of these strategies.”

“There’s nothing on the table in the board of legislators as a document,” he said at a Monday press conference at the airport. “If Macquarie wants to say, ‘The proposal that we had last year stands,’ it’s a proposal, so it depends on what you consider ‘on the table.’”

Last year, Macquarie was selected to operate the airport by then-County Executive Robert P. Astorino in a $1.1 billion public-private partnership.

Following Latimer’s announcement, Macquarie officials said in a statement, “We stand ready to participate in the discussion as the county executive and his team deem appropriate.”

The proposed public-private partnership is a product of a Federal Aviation Administration program that would allow money paid to the county by a private operator to be used for all county programs. Until now, any revenue generated by the airport could only be used at the airport.

“We never once viewed the airport as a piggy bank to crack open,” Latimer said.

Latimer has said previously that the selection of Macquarie was made without sufficient discussion by the board of legislators and members of the public.

In an effort to elicit more public input, Latimer held a series of public meetings over the summer, with discussions ranging from the airport’s governance to the master plan.

In July, the county submitted a master plan developed by aviation consulting firm DY Consultants to the FAA, a document that had been in the works since 2013. The county paid DY Consultants $1.4 million to craft that master plan, though it was met with opposition from many community members.

County officials said they had a number of concerns regarding the submitted master plan. The administration now plans to develop a supplement to the master plan, one that would include a “more robust visioning process and a more thorough assessment of environmental issues and community benefits.”

The county plans to issue a request for proposals to bring on a new consultant to assist with that process in September.

In response to a number of noise complaints from neighboring residents, the county has ordered 10 portable noise monitors that will be placed in “key locations” by the end of this month, including areas that accounted for the largest portion of complaints by the airport’s neighbors. They will also be placed in areas that are insufficiently covered by the fixed noise monitors.

“Once we have sufficient data from these new monitors, we will be better prepared to move forward and address longer-term actions,” said Joan McDonald, the county’s director of operations.

The county’s fixed noise monitoring system includes some monitors that are more than two decades old, county officials said, and use technology that is now obsolete. The county plans to hire a consultant to assist in updating that system.

The county also announced it would roll out a new program that would automate the airport’s complaint response system. The system would provide quicker responses, streamline the process of filing a complaint and provide greater public access to noise complaint information and trends. The county plans to have this system up and running by September.

The county is also starting an inventory of air emissions and greenhouse gasses, creating an air dispersion model and setting up an emissions monitoring system. The county expects to obtain those results later this year.

Latimer also plans to revive an airport water quality testing program. The county will begin water sampling by the end of this month at 49 monitoring wells.

County Attorney John Nonna said the administration is in talks with the Department of Environmental Conservation to address any needed remedial measures.

Business Council of Westchester Vice President and COO John Ravitz said that while the organization supports a “thorough and careful review” of the airport’s issues, “we are concerned that the highly charged rhetoric and grossly exaggerated claims being made by a well-organized group of opponents of the airport threaten to overwhelm the public discourse.”

“Their comments begin with an oft-repeated statement that the airport is in danger of becoming ‘LaGuardia North,’” Ravitz said. “Such an expansion would have no government or public support. It is not even a remote possibility, and suggesting otherwise is irresponsible.”