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Republic Airport commission wants more input in development

Talon Air, seen here Feb. 1, 2017, was

Talon Air, seen here Feb. 1, 2017, was awarded an RFP for Republic Airport in Farmingdale. Credit: Johnny Milano

Members of the Republic Airport commission remain frustrated over their role after they said they were left in the dark about the development of five airport parcels of land.

Commission members said they hope a public meeting on Thursday with state officials and Talon Air Inc., which was awarded the land, will address questions on their role.

Chairman Frank Nocerino announced at a meeting last month that the commission had just received a letter from Empire State Development, which put out a Request for Proposals for the parcels in February 2016, indicating that Talon Air was chosen. The state agency had sent award letters to Talon in August for four parcels and in November for the fifth. The commission had inquired about the RFP for months, Nocerino said, sending out another letter on behalf of a coalition of civic associations in January.

“This commission got blindsided,” he said at last month’s meeting.

Nocerino called the award to Talon the latest in a series of incidents in which the commission was caught off guard. He cited Talon’s approval for a fuel farm and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement that Republic would have commercial airline services, both in 2015. The Department of Transportation has since said there will be no commercial services at the airport in East Farmingdale.

Residents have expressed similar concerns, noting in a December letter from the civic coalition to the commission that it appeared the state viewed community input as “irrelevant”.

The six-person airport commission is made up of volunteers appointed by the governor and approved by the State Senate. Their role is to be a conduit between the surrounding communities and the state Department of Transportation.

“We’re sitting here volunteering our time and hearing things for the first time here and I don’t think that’s fair,” commission member Stella Barbera said at the commission meeting. “It doesn’t serve the purpose of why we’re here, to communicate and disseminate information to the community. . . . I find it very disturbing.”

Development agency spokeswoman Amy Varghese said that state rules prevent the release of any details of proposals before awarding all five parcels.

“The Airport Commission’s goal is to advance the transformation of Republic Airport, so we look forward to working with them on this plan that’s going to create hundreds of jobs and generate $50 million in revenue for the region,” Varghese wrote in an email.

Agency officials have said they and transportation officials conducted “robust” community outreach before the request for proposals being issued and noted a 2015 civic meeting attended by a state representative and three “stakeholder” meetings held in 2015, one of which was attended by civic group members. Airport commission members were not invited to any of the meetings, Nocerino said.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer wrote in an email: “Now that a developer has been conditionally designated, the public feedback process will proceed. We look forward to engaging with community groups, residents and stakeholders including the Commission.”

“You cannot ask me to sit on an advisory council to advise you on a project that’s already been decided,” member Robert Bodenmiller said at the meeting last month. “Hopefully somebody at the meeting will raise that question as to why the people who have the legislative responsibility to be consulted and reply never are.”

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