BY JAMES FARRELL
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) stood alongside community activists, including the airplane noise reduction advocacy group Queens Quiet Skies on Friday to vent frustration about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s upcoming aviation roundtable.
The roundtable was established as a forum for community stakeholders—residents, the Port Authority, the Federal Aviation Administration, and John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports—to work out solutions to the controversial issue of airplane noise in Queens and other New York communities. The roundtable meetings have had a contentious history, with many community groups disagreeing on how the events should be organized. The groups have been trying to agree on a set of roundtable bylaws since their first meeting in May 2014.
At Friday’s press conference, Avella explained that he would not attend another aviation roundtable meeting until the Port Authority hired a permanent facilitator to run the meetings. He described the last aviation roundtable meeting as “the most craziest, disruptive, yelling meeting I’ve ever attended on any issue.” The predominant issue of that meeting was the same issue that has plagued the roundtable since its formation—whether there should be one roundtable to handle all aviation issues or two separate ones for John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, respectively.
Advocates from Queens Quiet Skies argued that while the roundtable had previously voted on having one meeting, the last meeting had regressed into tense discussions about the number of roundtables and failed to pass bylaws. On Feb. 1, the Port Authority announced that the next meeting would be held on Feb. 15.
“At every meeting, all we do is keep going over the previous ground,” said Avella. “People who don’t like the decisions that have been made just kind of bring up the same issues over and over again.”
Avella said that the Port Authority needs to hire a facilitator to run the day-to-day operations of the roundtable to make sure things go more smoothly. He said that he raised this concern before a meeting scheduled in December and the Port Authority put a facilitator in place. But when Avella learned that the facilitator would only be attending the December meeting to get the bylaws passed and not be holding a permanent position in the roundtable, he voiced frustration. The December meeting was ultimately canceled, said Avella, who was disappointed to hear that the same plan was in effect for the February meeting.
“It’s the same thing again,” he said. “We immediately called the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and said this is unacceptable.”
Phil Konigsberg and Henry Euler, members of Queens Quiet Skies and Community Boards 7 and 11, respectively, read a statement on behalf of Janet McEneany, Queens Quiet Skies’ president, that detailed concerns about both the procedures of the roundtable and the new bylaws that members are expected to vote on at Wednesday’s meeting.
In addition to the lack of a facilitator, Queens Quiet Skies felt that the roundtable’s two committees for each major airport were too independent, creating, in practice, two separate roundtables. Queens Quiet Skies has advocated for a single group to make decisions about Queens’ shared airspace and argued that the members already voted for that solution. Additionally, McEneany expressed concern that the current structure of the roundtable was not transparent to members or the public, arguing that the February meeting had two weeks’ notice and that the initial invitation did not come with the new bylaws attached, leaving too little time for members to review the latest draft before voting.
She was also dismayed that the bylaws did not require members to commit in writing to carrying out any decisions of the roundtable. She expressed frustration that the roundtable had not followed the structure set up by other successful groups around the country —for example, in San Francisco.
“Our recent noise problems are created by our shared airspace, but those problems will not be addressed in public under these bylaws,” said McEneany’s statement. “Instead, a small shadow group of officers from each airport committee will meet together to make deals on our noise problems.”
She called for the Feb. 15 meeting to be canceled and told the Queens Tribune in a phone interview that she hadn’t decided yet if Queens Quiet Skies would otherwise attend.
“I personally believe at this point that [the Port Authority’s] just doing this because they don’t want a roundtable,” said Avella.
In response, the Port Authority told the Queens Tribune that attendance by all members is important toward the establishment of a fully functional aviation roundtable and that the Port Authority has worked hard to develop bylaws that ensure the roundtable speaks for all stakeholders, even those beyond Queens. A Port Authority spokeswoman also added that the roundtable is not yet at the stage where a facilitator with deep technical knowledge of aviation is needed—for the time being, the facilitator just needs to have the relationships and experience to get the bylaws passed. She added that there are still active discussions about hiring a permanent facilitator.
And in a letter from Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye to Borough President Melinda Katz, Foye expressed these same sentiments.
“To ensure that the next meeting of NYCAR [NYC Aviation Roundtable]is as productive as possible, we have secured the participation of a meeting facilitator with deep roots in local aviation policy and the Queens community,” Foye said. “It’s critical to note that this meeting facilitator is tasked only with making the next meeting of NYCAR and the adoption of the draft bylaws a success. Moving forward, this would not preclude the hiring of a full-time facilitator for the roundtable if the membership could not come to agreement on a suitable candidate and a way to fund the position.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.