Malvernites were subjected to sustained levels of increased plane noise from April 1 to shortly after Nov. 15, as two of John F. Kennedy International Airport’s main runways were closed for reconstruction.
During that period, noise complaints to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, skyrocketed, with the monthly volume jumping from around 15,000 in March to more than 23,000 the following month, then peaking in May at nearly 31,600, according to the authority’s reports.
The Nassau County Aviation Committee held its first public forum in May, at which residents of Malverne and other western Nassau County communities decried the increase of jet noise. Malvernite Elaine Miller, a committee co-founder, had hoped that because the group includes several elected officials, residents’ complaints about jet noise would no longer fall on deaf ears.
“It’s not as though this issue hasn’t been publicized or talked about,” Miller said. “It’s at the forefront of issues in our communities.”
The summer months see an increase in flights to and from JFK, according to the Port Authority, from an average of 37,000 arrivals and departures per month to around 40,000.
The $355 million reconstruction project at JFK involved the widening and lengthening of parallel runways 31R/13L and 13R/31L, upgrades to lighting and electrical systems and the use of concrete to increase operational lifespan to 40 years, rather than eight to 12.
The closing of the two runways resulted in major changes to the flight patterns for planes landing and taking off at the airport.
Most of the arrivals and departures on 31R/13L — which has historically handled a third of the airport’s traffic — and 13R/31L were transferred to the airport’s remaining two runways, with some seeing an increase of traffic by as much as 10,000 flights in a month.
“We’re going on eight years now,” said Jana Goldenberg, another co-founder of the aviation committee. “It’s not like we haven’t been patient, and it’s not like we didn’t do what we needed to do. It’s just that nobody is taking the bull by the horns.”
Malvernite Larry Hoppenhauer, former executive director of the Town of Hempstead’s Town-Village Aircraft Safety & Noise Abatement Committee, a civilian watchdog agency that monitors airplane noise in the area, said that noise impacts for two of the three runways were much worse than expected. He also said that although the noise levels in the neighborhoods surrounding JFK are returning to preconstruction levels, they remain “unacceptable to the impacted communities.”
“The problems remain the same,” Hoppenhauer said. “Using departure and arrival routes for long periods of time and not rotating runways, low-flying aircraft and night-time flights that wake people up.”
Miller echoed Hoppenhauer’s comments, saying she had not noticed a drop in jet noise. She said that residents are now getting hit with the noise from departures and arrivals at LaGuardia Airport. Part of the problem, Miller said, is the lack of communication between residents and the Federal Aviation Administration. The aviation committee met with members of the Port Authority, along with representatives of U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice’s office, a few months ago to discuss jet noise, but all parties agreed that the FAA needed to be a part of that meeting.
“The number of complaints they’re getting is a direct indication of what’s happening to our communities,” Miller said. “We want to know what the FAA is doing with the noise complaints they’re collecting.”
The group sent two letters to Veda Simmons, the FAA’s regional noise ombudsman for New York, to see how she planned to work with communities on addressing jet noise. So far, the group has received no response.
“In essence, the crux of the matter is how the FAA is now completely ignoring any concerns from communities regarding the noise complaints,” Miller said. “The fact that they just absolutely refuse to meet with us is frustrating.”
Calls to Simmons’s office were not returned by press time.
The Port Authority is currently in the final stretches of a noise study, known as a Part 150, examining the impact of plane noise in areas under the flight paths at Kennedy and LaGuardia. In 2012, the state passed legislation authorizing the study, but Hoppenhauer said he had little faith that, when completed, it would produce the needed changes to flight paths.
Additionally, he noted mounting scientific evidence of the negative health effects of constant plane traffic in communities near airports.
In response, State Sen. Jim Gaughran and Assemblywoman Judy Griffin introduced in their respective houses bills S5855 and A7710, called on the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the health impact of runway use at JFK and LaGuardia airports on residents living in their vicinity.
The study was intended to look at the health impact of plane noise. In the 2019-20 legislative session, the bills passed both houses, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed them.
“While Governor Cuomo unfortunately vetoed my bill, I am in touch with his office to ensure its passage this year,” Griffin said in a statement. “Long Islanders have suffered enough with airplane noise and its detrimental effects, therefore I will make sure this gets over the finish line this session.”
In addition, Gaughran recently reintroduced a bill, S7305, to conduct the same study. “We feel that the only way this situation is going to be resolved for the residents is through legislation,” Miller said. “A law must be passed to protect the citizens and the communities to combat the onslaught that we deal with every day.”
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