Valley Streamer Dawn Richie, a corrections officer, gets home late from work — right around the time the planes start flying over her house, she said.
In her experience, the rumbling starts in earnest around 1 a.m., just as she’s getting ready to sleep, and continues for several hours. The planes fly so low, she said, she can sometimes hear the whirring of their landing gear.
It has been like this for the past few months, Richie said, and has become so bad that she sometimes records the noise so other people will believe how loud it is. She has lived on Lincoln Avenue in Central Valley Stream for roughly eight years, and in the past she has heard loud plane noise about two nights a week. But for the rest, she said, “It was sweet serenity.”
Richie is not alone. Over the past five months, noise complaints to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have skyrocketed, peaking at nearly 32,000 in May, compared with something over 15,000 in March, according to agency statistics.
That’s because since April 1, the Port Authority, which operates John F. Kennedy International Airport, has embarked on a $355 million reconstruction project, widening two of the airport’s main runways and closing them for eight months until the project’s scheduled completion in November. The work is reportedly on track to meet that deadline, according to Port Authority officials.
As a result, flights have been rerouted to JFK’s other three runways, increasing traffic. At issue for Valley Stream, chiefly, is runway 22L, the arrival path for which is above Valley Stream and Elmont. In July, according to the latest statistics from the Port Authority, there was a 41 percent increase in arrival traffic on the runway over the previous year, with nearly 13,000 arrivals in 2019, compared with roughly 9,000 in 2018.
“22L, the particular runway that’s impacting [Valley Stream], is showing a tremendous increase in noise,” said Larry Hoppenhauer, 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.
The impact due to the construction was about what he expected, he said, but was made worse than previous JFK runway construction projects because the airlines did not cut back on their flight schedules at JFK during the summer months, which is peak flight season, he noted.
Still, Hoppenhauer said, because the project involves reconstructing JFK’s runways using concrete, instead of asphalt, he estimated it might lead to fewer such instances of increased noise.
According to the Port Authority’s final environmental impact statement for the project, the use of concrete should increase the runway’s operational life from 10 to 40 years, requiring fewer runway closures for repairs.
“I’ve been hearing the same things everyone else has been hearing, and that it’s driving them crazy,” said Sean Wright, a TVASNAC board member who is also Valley Stream’s deputy mayor. “It’s disturbing to children and pets. A lot of people are very unhappy, and we understand that.”
He said he expected increased traffic on 22L, but he did not expect it to increase as much as it has. “It’s pretty much doubled,” he said, and while the project is in its final stages, he worries that the larger jetliners the new runways will accommodate may also lead to increased noise after the project is completed.
“They say the larger aircraft are going to be quieter,” Wright said of aviation officials. “I honestly hope that’s right.”
Noise, noise everywhere
The Federal Aviation Administration’s standard method of measuring airplane noise is a metric called day-night average sound level, or DNL, which measures the total noise accumulated over a 24 hours.
The FAA regards a 65-decibel DNL as its threshold for what it considers “significant” noise.
According to the Port Authority’s impact study, 13,406 households and 39,038 people will be exposed to a 65-decibel DNL or higher due to the construction.
In addition to average homes, 27 noise-sensitive sites, which include facilities such as hospitals, schools, houses of worship and libraries, may be exposed to “significant” plane noise that they had not experienced previously, and 30 sites that already experience plane noise will hear even more.
Conversely, because of a lack of traffic from the runways under construction, 16 noise-sensitive sites that normally experience plane noise are expected to see a temporary reprieve during construction.
Valley Stream has been among the hardest hit communities in terms of increased plane noise due to the construction, according to the Port Authority’s latest noise-monitoring report. In July, Valley Stream experienced an average DNL of 59.5, compared to a 55.2 DNL in the same month last year, while it is not considered “significant” by FAA standards, it constitutes a 4.3 DNL difference according to data from a noise-monitoring device on Catherine Street.
Other hard-hit communities include Rosedale, Springfield Gardens and Arverne, which saw 4.2, 4.6 and 2.8 DNL increases, respectively.
For your Health!
Beyond the issue of plane noise caused by runway construction, state lawmakers are embarking on a new study in New York to look at the health effects of constant plane traffic in communities neighboring airports.
Introduced in the Senate and Assembly by State Sen. Jim Gaughran and State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin respectively, bills S5855/A7710 would call on the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the human-health impact of runway use at JFK and LaGuardia airports on residents living in their vicinity.
The study would also look at the health impact of plane noise. The bills have passed both houses and are awaiting a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.