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Queens group asks panel to order FAA to conduct full environmental study on JFK runway project

An attorney representing a coalition of Queens civic groups Thursday told a panel of judges in Manhattan that the Federal Aviation Administration got it wrong when the agency determined a runway project at Kennedy Airport would not have significant impacts on the environment and residents who live and work in surrounding neighborhoods.

During oral arguments before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Clyde Vanel, attorney for Eastern Queens Alliance, said the plan to widen Runway 4L/22R and construct 728 feet of new pavement on the north end of the runway would put departing and arriving airplanes closer to homes. At the very least, Vanel said, air and noise pollution would increase.

When asked by one judge what he wanted the panel to do, Vanel said to order the FAA to conduct an environmental impact study. Without an in-depth review, he said, no one knows what effects the project will have on residents' health and quality of life.

U.S. Attorney Mark R. Haag, with the Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division, told the three-judge panel that the FAA met all its obligations by taking a "hard look" at the project before issuing its determination.

"It's not enough for the petitioner to come in and say we disagree -- you're wrong," Haag said.

One of the judges asked Haag the difference between an environmental impact study, which residents are calling for, and an environmental assessment, the review carried out by the airport operator, the Port Authority.

An environmental assessment costs hundreds of thousands to conduct while an environmental impact study costs millions of dollars, Haag said.

The Port Authority had said its plan -- to extend Runway 4L/22R to 12,079 feet from its current 11,351 feet and widen it to 200 feet from 150 feet -- is necessary to meet design standards set by the FAA. The wider runway would accommodate larger aircraft, including the Airbus A380, a double-decker widebody jet that is currently the world's largest passenger airliner.

"Some work is already underway," Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority said yesterdayThe FAA requires runways to have a buffer zone, referred to as runway safety area, to lessen the risk of damage to property and injury to passengers in the event an aircraft overruns, undershoots or is forced off the runway. The authority has until Dec. 31, 2015, to bring Runway 4L/22R into compliance.

The FAA, which reviewed the authority's proposal, signed off on the project. The Eastern Queens Alliance, which represents thousands of southeast Queens residents, disagrees with the FAA's conclusion and filed a lawsuit to overturn the decision.

More than a dozen residents who live in such neighborhoods as Springfield Gardens and Rosedale came to court Thursday to show their support.

"There are human beings that live in these communities," said Gloria Boyce-Charles, of Springfield Gardens, who lives in the house her parents bought in 1975. "I am hopeful the judges will rule in our favor and we get the study we need."The three judges -- Ralph K. Winter, Barrington D. Parker, Raymond L. Lohier Jr. -- said they would issue a decision at a later date. Vanel said he did not expect one for several months.

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