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Rattled Residents Grill Port Authority Official on Plane Noise

Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee hosts meeting in Malverne.

The fight over the amount of noisy planes flying over Garden City and other Nassau County communities came to Malverne Monday night, where residents expressed their frustration to the man in charge of monitoring the racket.

Edward Knoesel, manager of environmental services for the aviation department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates nearby JFK Airport, was the guest speaker at the May 22 meeting of the Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee. (The coalition of 14 villages in the Town of Hempstead has been meeting monthly to press the Port Authority and Federal Aviation Administration to address residents’ noise complaints and safety concerns.) FAA officials failed to attend.

Knoesel delivered a report on operations at JFK during the past 12 months and what noise monitors in the area recorded.

His figures showed that between May 2011 and April 2012 JFK’s four runways – 4L/R, 13L/R, 22 L/R and 31L/R – dealt with a total of 414,859 arrivals and departures. July 2011 saw the most traffic – 39,429 flights. In that month, 22L, which has been a major concern for residents in Garden City, New Hyde Park, Floral Park, East Williston and Stewart Manor, whose homes are under the flight path for planes landing on that runway, handled by far the most arrivals, 7,538. That’s 76 percent more than Runway 31R, the next busiest with 4,291 arrivals, and 142 percent more than 13L, which had 3,119. (Combined 4 L and R had only 2,201.)

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The figures supported what many residents in these communities have been saying for months.

“We’re getting more than our fair share,” said Ray Gaudio, the TVASNAC representative for East Williston. According to his calculations, 22L had about a third of all arrivals at JFK last year.

Knoesel responded, “We actively work with the FAA to try to ensure that they are moving the traffic around to best of their ability … but we don't dictate what they do.”

He explained that on several occasions, including the April TVASNAC meeting, the FAA has publicly stated that it uses four criteria when selecting runways, starting with availability, wind and weather conditions, operational efficiency and then lastly, noise consideration.

“Thank you for providing the data to confirm our complaints,” stated Laurence Quinn, a village trustee and TVASNAC member for Garden City. During the meeting, Quinn also used his stopwatch to time the frequency of the planes passing over Malverne Village Hall and found they were coming every 1 minute and 29 seconds.

“Notice the two trains that went by? Which noise was louder even though the tracks are located right behind us?” he added, to which some residents in the audience shouted, “The planes!”

The frequent planes flying over the village of Malverne and neighboring communities are actually departing, not landing.

Pointing to a diagram of the runways at JFK, Larry Hoppenhauer, the TVASNAC rep for Malverne, showed that 98 percent of the departures affecting Malverne are coming out of 22R and the Bay Runway, which is made up of 13R and 31L. In July 2011, the Bay Runway dealt with 10,444 departures and 22R had 6,613, while the other five runways only handled a combined total of roughly 2,100.

Hoppenhauer urged all those in attendance and others watching at home via Malverne TV to lodge noise complaints with both the Port Authority and the FAA, and to contact their local politicians to urge them to pressure the two agencies to work together to address the issues. He provided a hand-out to the residents with all the contact information for these parties, as well as other important resources. (You can view it in the PDFs section above.)

"Unless we can get our elected officials behind us it’s going to be a long haul," he said.

What the Port Authority and FAA do with the noise complaints they do receive was a question posed by a number of TVASNAC representatives to Knoesel.

He explained that his office does not respond to every complaint it receives, stating, “We get a lot of calls, a good majority come from the same household.” Instead, they look at the trends and for complaints that indicate a pilot may have deviated from protocols, such as callers saying a plane is flying "so low you could throw a rock at it,” he said.

Other questions posed during the night concerned the noise levels that have been measured by the nine portable monitors that are located in Inwood, Woodmere, Arverne, Springfield Gardens, South Ozone Park, Howard Beach, Cedarhust, Atlantic Beach and Floral Park.

If noise levels exceed 65 dBA, efforts must be taken by the parties responsible to either lower it or sound-proof schools in those communities.  For July 2011, the average noise levels recorded by the monitor in Cedarhurst was 75.1; for Woodmere it was 74.7.

Even if a community is right on the cusp of the 65 dBA level though, such as Floral Park, which recorded average noise levels in the low 60s for 11 out of the 12 months, Knoesel said, the FAA and Port Authority are not required to do anything to alleviate the noise impact in these areas.

“Who set that standard of 65? Someone who lives in Westchester?” Hoppenhauer said.

“It’s based on FAA regulations,” Knoesal said, adding that anything below 65 is not considered to have a “significant impact.”

“So the one that sets the regulations is the one who benefits most from the regulations,” Hoppenhauer stated.

Nassau County Legis. Fran Becker and a representative for Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy posed a few questions to Knoesal and Bill Huisman, of the Aviation Development Council, and expressed their commitment to help the communities in their fight for quieter skies.

Several residents in attendance from Malverne, Garden City, Valley Stream and Floral Park then hurled questions and complaints in Knoesal’s direction when given the chance to speak.

One Malverne resident called for an investigation of the FAA’s recent airspace redesign.  Another, who is an attorney now but had worked in international business for 25 years, provided some insight about what the residents are up against.

“There is money to be made … they want to keep the ambiguity, that’s the politics,” he said, but explained that there are legal routes the public can take to force government agencies to disclose information beyond FOIL requests.

A number of residents also proposed routing more planes over the ocean instead of Long Island’s densely populated suburbia.

“What will it take a plane falling on a house and someone getting killed? … This has been going on for three years and I’m sick of fighting this fight,” said Gina Fornasar, of Garden City. She has spoken out at past meetings about how the frequent noisy planes, which fly over her home (sometimes every 42 seconds) impact her autistic son and most likely, degrade the air quality in the neighborhood.

“What are you doing to our children? What are you doing to our community?” she added. “Something has to be done.”

TVASNAC’s next meeting will be back in Lawrence Village Hall, its primary location, on June 25 at 7:30 p.m.

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