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NYC defends trash plant near LaGuardia airport

/ Source: The Associated Press

New York City officials are defending their decision to build a garbage plant less than a half-mile from LaGuardia Airport, disputing opponents who contend the facility will increase the number of bird-plane collisions.

Critics have asked a federal court to stop construction of the North Shore Marine Transfer Station, warning it will attract wildlife and raise the risk of bird collisions like the one that forced US Airways Flight 1549 to land in the Hudson River in January 2009.

The transfer station "will absolutely not increase the risk of bird strikes," Julie Wood, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in a written statement on Monday. "Anyone who says otherwise doesn't know the facts, and is attempting to scare the public for reasons having nothing to do with safety."

The facility is located 2,200 feet from the end of LaGuardia's Runway 31.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit garbage facilities within 2,500 feet of the end of most runways at major airports. But the protected zone shrinks to 1,700 feet in certain cases where the runways have rules limiting landings during bad weather. Runway 31 falls into that category.

The airport considered installing an instrument landing system in 2007 that would have required a larger runway protection zone, or RPZ, but abandoned the idea in 2008 after an FAA study showed the system was not feasible for that runway, the FAA said on Monday.

"The FAA did not modify the size of the RPZ to accommodate the Marine Transfer Station," the FAA said in a written statement.

Construction of the transfer station began in 2009. After the downing of Flight 1549, the city agreed to install spikes to discourage birds from perching on the transfer station, eliminate ledges on the building and take other steps to keep birds away. It is scheduled to open in 2013.

Workers at the transfer station will take trash from garbage trucks and pack it into containers to be shipped by barge to landfills. The city says the transfer area will be enclosed and bird-proof.

But opponents say the smell of garbage is bound to attract wildlife, and they note that the facility will be bigger than a previous trash-collection facility that operated at the site through the 1990s.

"This is a disaster waiting to happen," said Randy Mastro, attorney for Friends of LaGuardia Airport, an advocacy group. "It's a colossally stupid idea to locate a garbage transfer station that will attract birds so close to an airport runway."

In June, the group filed a complaint with a federal appeals court asking it to overturn the FAA's decision. The New York Post first reported on the court case on Monday. Appeals against certain FAA decisions must be filed in an appeals court rather than a federal trial court.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport, declined comment.