‘Shovel not ready’ for bid project
Many of the 30-odd people who attended the Feb. 13 meeting of the Republic Airport Commission (RAC) expected to hear about development plans at the East Farmingdale facility.
Coming in, they had many questions, even if they only got to ask a few.
The answers were not always forthcoming.
It wasn’t that the RAC, under Chairman Frank Nocerino, was trying to be evasive. Often, members seemed to know little more than those with an interest in the future of the airport and how it would affect surrounding communities.
The story began in February 2016, when the Empire State Development Corp. (ESD), on behalf of the airport’s owner, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) put out a request for proposal (RFP) to develop five unused parcels at the 530-acre facility. The winning bid, $50 million for all five parcels, was turned in by Stratosphere Development Co., a subsidiary of Talon Air, which is headquartered and operates at the airport.
Everyone from Senator John Brooks (D-Seaford), whose district encompasses the airport, to the RAC itself to a clutch of community groups, has questioned the RFP/bid process.
Nocerino affirmed, “We sent [the DOT] correspondence saying that the RAC was bypassed [in the decision]. Maybe it’s time for me to take that ride up to Albany with [Senator Brooks] and get a meeting with the DOT. [Brooks] himself seems to be having a problem trying to get a meeting with the DOT. That tells me the story there.”
Brooks, in a statement, said, “I have been in communication with the DOT and requested a meeting at which our intention is to discuss a number of issues concerning the airport, with the objective of improving the overall communication with the local residents.”
DOT officials rejected the characterization of the bid process as somehow flawed or opaque. They told the Farmingdale Observer that the RAC did have input and the meeting to discuss the Talon/Stratosphere was well-publicized and many questions and concerns were addressed.
“We held two public meetings…and put everything out there for the public to see,” said one official.
Information on the proposal may be found at www.republicairport.net.
Infusion Of Cash
The ESD’s press release noted that the “plan…is expected to result in over $1 million in annual revenue to the airport for the next 49 years,” and that the firm “will invest at least $27 million in new facilities….Stratosphere will build hangars for its own fleet of planes and provide new modern facilities for smaller pilots in the community.”
The proposal is expected to create 73 permanent and 226 construction jobs.
Republic operates at a loss, costing the state about $250,000 a year in subsidies.
One of the losing bidders, LI Clean Tech, sued the ESD, DOT and Stratosphere last November, questioning the process. Though the Article 78 lawsuit to reverse the bid contract continues, the Office of the State Comptroller, which has final say over state bids, dismissed the firm’s allegations on Jan. 5.
Eliot Bloom, a principal with LI Clean Tech, attended the meeting and updated attendees on the status of and motivations for the lawsuit. He reminded Nocerino about Section 400 of the state’s transportation law, which specifically mentions the RAC and that the DOT can exercise authority “only following the consultation, guidance, advice, and assistance of the commission.” Bloom felt that the DOT did not comply with the law in its development plans.
In a statement, DOT spokesperson Joe Morrissey said, “Republic Airport is a crucial engine for Long Island’s continued economic growth. The procurement process was fair, equal and transparent from the beginning, with ample communication with the public throughout. The development of these underutilized parcels is an essential step toward unleashing the Airport’s potential and will generate $50 million for the airport, $27 million in new investment and create dozens of quality jobs.”
Nocerino began the meeting asserting that the RAC shares residents’ concerns. Above all, commercial flights and cargo operations should not be part of the airport’s future; these would presumably change its character.
“There is no shovel going in tomorrow. Please trust me,” Nocerino pleaded. “There is a lot more to go here. The FAA has got to get involved. The environmental [reviews have to happen].”
But he also shared the attendees’ distrust of what he called “the powers that be” and wants reassurances in writing. To that end, he will seek the RAC’s permission to write a letter seeking such.
Nocerino also took the resolution to discuss the introduction of a second instrument landing system (ILS) at Republic off the agenda. He asked Stella Barbera, a commissioner, to convene the working group she chairs to research the issue and report back. Afterward, Nocerino promised, he would answer residents’ concerns.
An ILS supplies pilots with GPS coordinates to enable them to land their planes even when they can’t see the runway. Residents worried that a second ILS might lead to even more planes using the busy general aviation airport. One of the most active speakers was John Lisi of Lindenhurst, a member of Republic Civic Coalition for Integrity and Compliance. It is made up of area civic associations whose members felt they had not gotten enough input into the proposals.
Lisi exhibited pictures he had taken of five large trailers in the parking lot of the now shuttered 56th Fighter Group Restaurant and quizzed Airport Interim Director Gary Barnable about their use. Barnable had read a statement earlier claiming they were part of a reorganization of a tie-down area (to secure light planes outdoors) on Echo Ramp, which is part of the future project. Stratosphere had received a temporary permit to do work there and Barnable stated that “it was not related to the construction that may result under the RFP.”
Lisi remained skeptical, and told the Farmingdale Observer that the 50×10 trailers, complete with electrical connection and heating/air conditioning units, seemed more like long-term installations.
“Tie-downs are not a major construction project, so why would you need these?” Lisi wondered. “This causes us concern that they have ‘jumped the gun’ and these trailers are actually there for the parcels’ construction work. The RAC and DOT should not have granted Talon permission to set up these trailers now, if they are indeed theirs.”
DOT officials told the Farmingdale Observer that the trailers were temporary and had passed a review process. They rejected Lisi’s assertion that anything untoward was associated with their presence.