Ray RaimundiFeb 2, 2018, 10:52 pm

The plane truth: New concerns are in the air about Westchester County Airport

FiOS1 News and The Journal News report on recent groundwater contamination findings ahead of future plans for the facility

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WHITE PLAINS — There's more than just planes up in the air at Westchester County Airport, including whether the airport will be privatized and whether the updated "master plan" will be adopted. Those questions have legislators, advocacy groups, and those who live nearby in a tailspin.

"There's a grassroots movement of people who are concerned with the airport, who concerned with the master plan who want to get more involved with the issue here," says Journal News tax watch columnist David McKay Wilson. He has been delving into the master plan and the privatization plan for more than a year.

Wilson says the Westchester County Airport’s "draft master plan" that was updated back in April of last year under the previous administration received fierce backlash when it was finally released to the public in July 2017.

Part of the $462 million capital program of the master plan included three new parking garages, a $50 million corporate hangar, and a $10 million dollar building for county police and U.S customs. Legislators and people who live in the county opposed these expansions.

"We have the master plan, which has taken five years to develop and it’s still not complete. And the county executive has to decide what to do with it," Wilson says.

Critics also say the master plan forecasting for future air traffic ignored the airport's Terminal Use Regulation or TUR. The TUR limits the capacity of the terminal to 240 passengers per half hour.

"All of the forecast for this $462 million capital plan were based on not having a passenger cap here, which has been in place for more than 20 years," Wilson says.

Also on the table for new Westchester County Executive George Latimer: A $1 billion privatization deal with the airport. The deal was announced the day after Democrat Latimer defeated Republican Incumbent Robert Astorino.

"We think that the process of privatization is deeply flawed," says Purchase resident Jonathan Wang, who chairs a grassroots group called Citizens for a Responsible County Airport. He is against privatization, which he says will decrease accountability and force unwanted expansion of the airport.

"This false choice that we have to privatize the entire airport and we have to build this giant ‘master plan’ with $460 million of construction, of which $150 million comes from the county, primarily to expand the private aviation side. People don't want that," Wang says.

On top of the privatization and the master plan is an environmental threat.

The State Dept. of Environmental Conservation conducted testing of 14 monitoring wells on airport grounds in August. It discovered contaminated groundwater. The contamination was caused by perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, known as PFOS, and perfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

Environmental concerns in the area surrounding the airport intensified over the last couple of weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed there were contaminants in a reservoir between Westchester County Airport and the Kensico Dam. It was discovered those toxins seeped into the drinking water supply of an office building less than half a mile away from Westchester County Airport.

"They'd found levels of this chemical that were above EPA guidelines," Wang says.

Noise is also a growing concern for people who live near the airport, as air traffic has increased 9 percent since 2016. In fact, last year alone, noise complaints reached record highs. Complaints skyrocketed to 1,807 in November and 1,822 in December. That's compared to only 73 complaints made during the same period in 2016.

So between noise, privatization, the master plan, and environmental threats, there's no question: The Latimer Administration has many matters to address at the Westchester County Airport.

A spokesperson from the County Executive's office says Latimer’s priority is to involve the board of legislators in developing the plan for the airport's future.

More about tax watch columnist David McKay Wilson’s report can be found at lohud.com.

A full print report will appear Sunday, Feb. 4 in The Journal News.

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