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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Newsday report on Republic Airport raises key questions

One of the proposed development sites, Site B,

One of the proposed development sites, Site B, at Republic Airport in Farmingdale that is salted for an expansion of the airport, Aug. 1, 2017. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office is reviewing a $50 million development contract at Republic Airport in Farmingdale that has roused opposition from the losing bidder, local civic groups and a state senator.

At issue — well, actually there are several — is whether a decision by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to select to Stratosphere Development Co. LLC rather than LI Cleantech was rooted in favoritism for a Cuomo campaign contributor, according to a weekend report in Newsday.

Opponents also question why the state’s request for development proposals was pared from initially wanting to include retail and commercial — which were key areas in the LI Cleantech consortium bid — to seeking purely aeronautical, a specialty of Stratosphere.

Stratosphere is an affiliate of Talon Air, whose CEO, Adam Katz, company principals and their relatives have donated $200,000 to Cuomo’s campaign since 2009.

Communities located near airports tend to be vociferous in opposition to development or expansion proposals — after all, increased business means increased traffic, potentially both by air and by land. And elected officials — in this case, state Sen. Phil Boyle, a Republican who is seeking to be elected as Suffolk sheriff in November — is standing with airport neighbors, who would be more favorably disposed to commercial rather than aviation-related development.

The proposed development would remake a portion of the property at the 526-acre airport, where Stratosphere and Talon Air are based — and already provide fuel, repairs, charter air travel and other services.

The state transportation department, which owns the airport, along with a host of other federal and state agencies will have to approve the proposed development, which recently passed a state environmental review.

Should approvals keep coming, the state would give Stratosphere long-term leases on about 54 acres, on which the firm would build hangars, a new headquarters and an additional four aircraft parking areas. The work also would involve rerouting one road and clearing 18 acres of wooded area.

The proposed development has the support of the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group, and others because it promises to bring needed jobs and economic development to a region.

Representatives for Cuomo, the state and the selected development company said in the Newsday report that the selection process was transparent, fair and free of favoritism. A spokesman for the Cuomo administration also said there was no link between the awarding of the bid and political contributions to Cuomo — whose campaigns also received donations from two LI Cleantech consortium members.

Still, the report on the development and the selection process raise questions that an independent review could help put to rest. Among them: Why was the development changed from heavily commercial to aviation and is that in the best interests of the region?

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