Proposed JFK Expansion Would Harm Jamaica Bay

Today, NRDC and nineteen other environmental and civic groups sent a letter to New York officials opposing a recent proposal to expand John F. Kennedy airport into Jamaica Bay.  Such development would have unacceptable impacts on what’s widely considered New York City’s ecological crown jewel – impacts that should more than give planners pause as they consider how to deal with regional airport needs.

Jamaica Bay is the massive expanse of wetlands that you see when flying into or out of JFK.  It’s made up of 25,000 acres of water, marsh, meadowland, beaches, dunes and forests in Brooklyn and Queens.  As I’ve written before, the bay is home to an astonishing diversity of animal life, including 80 different fish species, as well as the occasional sea turtle and porpoise.  The bay is located on the Atlantic flyway, making it an oasis for birds migrating through our country’s largest and most densely populated city. 

The area is also a treasure trove of recreational opportunities such as boating, fishing, and birding for the half million New Yorkers who live around the bay.  It contains a federal wildlife refuge the size of 10 Central Parks, a portion of Gateway National Recreation Area, Bayswater State Park and nearly a dozen city parks.  U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently described it as one of America’s “great urban parks.”

If the JFK expansion plan were to move forward, hundreds of acres of the bay would need to be permanently filled in, something currently prohibited by federal law.  Intrusive commercial jet noise would increase and wildlife conflicts with aviation safety would escalate.  Water pollution from the airport, which currently discharges run-off from the millions of gallons of toxic deicing fluids directly into the bay, would also likely increase.

There’s a significant amount of work and money going into restoring New York City’s waterfront.  Just this Monday, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled “Vision 2020” – a $3 billion plan to restore the City’s 520 miles of shoreline – that includes projects to improve environmental and recreational values in and around Jamaica Bay.  And last year, the City committed more than $100 million to upgrading sewage treatment plants discharging into the bay and to restoring its marsh islands.  It’s hard to imagine that any future vision for Jamaica Bay that would include increased pollution and jet noise.

In January, the Regional Planning Association (RPA) released a study (funded by the Port Authority) that analyzed an array of options for accommodating projected growth in regional aviation demand.  The study listed JFK expansion into the bay as a solution, but also laid out alternatives, including strategies encompassing an additional runway at JFK that does not require filling or additional flights over Jamaica Bay, expansion of New Jersey’s Newark Airport, and technological improvements in air traffic control, along with a variety of other structural and operational upgrades in the regional airport system.

NRDC is urging the Port Authority – the agency in charge of deciding how to proceed – to consider these alternatives to harming Jamaica Bay.  Protecting the health of this invaluable natural resource should be a priority, for the people and wildlife that currently depend on it and for future generations that will need its refuge.