Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack’s May 5 letter is highly misleading. While McCormack says that the character of the Westchester County Airport will not change under privatization, nothing could be further from the truth.
McCormack notes that the number of gates and the passenger cap at the airport will not change. However, these limits apply only to airlines, which, according to the FAA, are less than 8% of airport traffic. Private flights, the other 92%, already cause most noise complaints and curfew violations and are free to grow without bounds. A private operator in search of profits will look for growth wherever it can by adding airline flights, lobbying for an increase in the passenger cap, and wooing corporate jets from other area airports.
If Astorino really believes in preserving Westchester’s quality of life, he should consider former County Executive Andy Spano’s muscular efforts to keep the airport a good neighbor. Today, six airline flights depart daily at or before the 6:30 a.m. curfew. In 2001, Spano threatened to close the entrance of the parking garage until 5:50 a.m. to encourage airlines to respect the curfew. Instead, Astorino looks to sell our County asset and the well being of our citizens to a private corporation.
Astorino claims there is a huge amount of money to unlock from the airport, but this also obscures the truth. The $140 million over 40 years the County stands to gain from airport privatization is less than 0.2% of the County’s $1.8 billion annual budget. Privatization would also reduce county revenues from other sources. Since 1991, the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program has given Westchester $102 million in federal money for security, infrastructure, and environmental projects at the airport. These grants secure the airport’s future and provide good jobs for our neighbors. But under privatization, the FAA would have given the county $9 million less. Privatization would also eliminate the $7 million per year the County would receive from the airport parking garage starting in 2023.
The 30- to 40-year length of the proposed lease is even more unacceptable because Astorino’s administration has evaded public input and access to the airport master plan, which will guide the development of and operations at the airport for the next decade. Even though his airport advisory board admits the plan has already been sent to the FAA for approval, Astorino continues to deny access to the plan both to the Board of Legislators and to the public. They claim, contrary to the FAA’s own guidance, that public input should not be solicited until after the FAA has approved the plan. How can we trust Astorino when he blocks efforts by the public to understand and comment on what he wants to do?
The privatization of Westchester County Airport would be a disastrous mistake that would irreparably harm the quality of life of our residents for decades into the future. Astorino’s original plan was rightly defeated last December, and voters should demand – at the ballot box this November if necessary – that the Board of Legislators end their pursuit of this foolhardy and shortsighted initiative.
— Jonathan Wang
Sierra Club Westchester Airport Committee