Blogs > Docket > Redoubling Riverkeeper’s commitment to environmental justice by demanding a closer look at the LaGuardia AirTrain Proposal

Redoubling Riverkeeper’s commitment to environmental justice by demanding a closer look at the LaGuardia AirTrain Proposal

Riverkeeper is watchdogging Port Authority’s proposal to construct an AirTrain from Citi Field to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. The AirTrain proposal has been lambasted by transit equity experts for its $2 billion cost, roundabout route, and alignment over the World’s Fair Promenade on Flushing Bay in East Elmhurst, a historically Black neighborhood with limited green space. An elevated rail system would affect nearby homes, obscuring their views of the bay, causing vibrations, and increasing noise and air pollution that airport neighbors have already shouldered for decades.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project largely avoids discussion of the impacts on parkland use, and it glosses over the potential increase in ridership on the already-overcrowded 7-train subway line. In lieu of that analysis, it points to a onetime $8.5 million mitigation payment for parkland upgrades, an insultingly small figure for the 13.16-acre park. By comparison, for its residential development near the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Two Trees set aside nearly $50 million, or $4.5 million per acre, for a 5.5-acre waterfront parkland.

Most glaring, though, is the summary dismissal of 45 alternatives that could improve access to the airport with less harm to the community. The benefits and impacts of bus rapid transit, ferry service, extension of the N-W subway line from Manhattan, and other proposed AirTrain routes were prematurely eliminated from consideration. Indeed, the DEIS bears all the hallmarks of a document written to favor a pre-ordained result.

The alternatives — some of which would be sited in more affluent Queens neighborhoods — were whittled down against eight unlawfully narrow criteria. For instance, no on-road alternatives could be considered, even if they would ultimately reduce traffic congestion. Ferry service, too, was a casualty of this criteria, since it would require a bus to transport travelers from the ferry dock to the terminals. Other unreasonable criteria included prohibiting impact on existing infrastructure or transit operations, no matter how small.

LaGuardia AirTrain proposalSince Riverkeeper was first alerted to the project’s potential impact on the waterfront in October 2018, we worked closely with our local partner Guardians of Flushing Bay to meet with Community Boards and neighborhood associations as well as New York City Council members and state and federal elected representatives. We sued Port Authority and won (twice) the release of its public communications with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Riverkeeper allied with partner organizations to form the Sensible Way to LGA Coalition made up of Ditmars Boulevard Block Association, Queens Neighborhoods United, Flushing Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Heights Beautification Group, and Guardians of Flushing Bay. With these groups we hosted a public forum in East Elmhurst on the impacts of the project and how the public could engage in the environmental review process. When the Federal Aviation Administration declined to hold a public hearing on the scope of review for the project, our coalition held a “people’s hearing” at the World’s Fair Marina Restaurant and submitted a tape for the record.

Most recently, we attended the virtual hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, where we heard loud and clear the community members’ need for a community center and health services, especially for the elderly population, which has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Guardians of Flushing Bay’s and Riverkeeper’s comments support these requests and also reiterate community concerns about impacts on homes, on community health from air and noise pollution, and on park access and enjoyment. We believe the demands and concerns raised by Riverkeeper and partners must be addressed in a new draft of the environmental impact statement, and we intend to make sure that all environmental laws are followed.

In doing so, Riverkeeper is proud to stand with our local partners for racial, social and environmental justice. Our work in Flushing Bay and Creek started with our boat patrol and a small group of community advocates—park users, dragon boaters and local residents—focused on water quality, access, combined sewage overflow, oysters and fish. Over the past five years, through our work to develop community-generated plans for what this waterway could look like in the years to come, we have developed relationships with the community the waterway serves. Throughout the process, we have been willing to learn, correct ourselves and be corrected, and improve as allies for the community and as advocates for the water and our environment. Our advocacy surrounding the AirTrain project is an example of how Riverkeeper, even after 50 years of victories, is continuing to evolve into a more effective champion for our waters and an ally to the local communities who rely on them.

Our commitment to environmental justice means that Riverkeeper, while maintaining our position as a voice for the Hudson River and drinking water resources, recognizes the interconnectedness between economic, environmental and health issues and acknowledges that the people closest to the problems are usually closest to the solutions. Riverkeeper will act to support communities to improve their relationship with their waters; advocate for and enforce equitable environmental laws; ensure community voices are not only heard by those in authority but heeded; and engage honestly, transparently and respectfully with our partners.

We are employing these strategies to ensure that any LaGuardia Airport access project is the best possible solution for the region’s transit problems and that it will avoid an unduly disproportionate impact on the community of East Elmhurst.

Tell Gov. Hochul to block invasive species at the Erie and Champlain canals
Become a Member