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"Westchester's secret airport plan remains under wraps"


 
Saturday, February 4, 2017

Westchester's secret airport plan remains under wraps 
Westchester's airport master plan, which was due Dec. 31, is far from complete, 
with limited input from the public
By David McKay Wilson
The White Plains (NY) Journal News


There has been almost as much secrecy about Westchester County's airport master 
plan as Donald Trump's taxes.

That might be over, however, following a six-week battle with the county 
administration over the $1.4 million plan.

So far, attempts by Tax Watch to make public portions of the report have been 
stymied in White Plains, but an administration spokesman said some documents 
would be made available at some point in the future.

The story has unfolded five years after the Federal Aviation Administration 
gave Westchester $1.3 million to conduct the master plan, and Westchester hired 
the Long Island firm, DY Consulting, to carry it out. Westchester added 
approximately $100,000 more to the contract.

The plan, which was to be completed by Dec. 31, has yet to be made public. And 
opportunities for public involvement, which as detailed in DY Consulting's 
141-page contract, have yet to be held.

It comes as Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has banked on selling off 
$2 billion in airport revenues over the next 40 years, which would allow his 
administration to use airport profits for general county purposes.

The 2017 county budget includes $15 million from the privatization deal.

A leading Westchester County legislator, who said she has sought the master 
plan from the administration on a regular basis since June, told Tax Watch that 
she needs to know what the county is planning for the aviation complex before 
any action is taken on selling off the airport revenues.

"If you are making big plans for the airport, there's no way to vote it out of 
committee without the master plan," said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, 
D-Hastings-on-Hudson, who chairs the legislature's Infrastructure Committee. 
"We can't be flying blind without knowing what the administration is thinking 
in terms of strategy."

If approved, Westchester would be the only airport in the continental US 
operated under the FAA's airport privatization program. The legislature 
declined to vote in December on Astorino's proposal to sell off the revenues to 
Oaktree Capital Management for $150 million.

The panel refused to vote on the deal because Astorino has chosen Oaktree in 
secret, without the benefit of a request for proposals.

The legislature is now seeking a consultant to draw up a request-for-proposals 
to see whether other companies would be interested in bidding on privatization.

According to DY Consulting's contract, the plan was due on Dec. 31. County 
spokesman Ned McCormack, in an email message, said the county expects the plan 
will be completed by the end of April.

Westchester has paid DY all but $145,000 of its contract and will not increase 
the contract when an extension is ratified later this winter.

McCormack compared drawing up the master plan to building a commercial project 
here.

"For the process to take several years is not surprising when you consider that 
the time from design to completion of a commercial development in Westchester 
averages about 10 years," McCormack wrote.

DY Consulting President Dennis Yap did not return numerous phone messages left 
at his Garden City office.

The battle for the report

Obtaining information involving the master plan has proved difficult.

A request for the plan was made to Astorino's office on Dec. 21, and a week 
later, county Records Access Officer  Barbara Tubiolo said she'd respond by 
Jan. 27.

She didn't.

On Monday, I appealed her non-response to County Attorney Robert Meehan.

By Thursday, Tubiolo wrote that Westchester had submitted one chapter to the 
FAA, along with numerous updates. Those documents would be provided if Tax 
Watch made another request, asking for those specific documents.

That chapter apparently includes a study of environmental conditions and 
pavement management at the aviation center.

Such a request was made Thursday, but it has yet to be acknowledged by Tubiolo, 
who also serves as executive director of the Westchester County Republican 
Committee. Attempts to reach Tubiolo by phone over the past week at her county 
office and county Republican headquarters were unsuccessful.

McCormack said late Friday that Tubiolo would "gladly provide you with those 
documents. I'm told you are talking about a large volume of data, so we will 
have to work out some kind of arrangement."

No public meetings

The contract broke down the master plan into 18 "tasks." They include analyses 
of parking, roadways, terminal redesign, and the facility's financial plan.

Among those tasks DY Consulting promised to carry outwas "stakeholder and 
public input" and "Financial plan and capital improvement plan."

The DY Consulting contract calls for two public information meetings, which 
would occur after the firm had developed preliminary alternatives for issues at 
the airport. Redesign of the terminal was an integral part of Oaktree's plan to 
make the structure more amenable to travelers.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said federal officials attended a December 2014 
meeting with members of the Westchester Aviation Association, whose members 
include owners of private planes at the airport. The only public session so far 
was the study's kick-off event in July, 2013, according to interviews with 
local environmental leaders.

"We've been waiting," said Theodore Anderson, of Chappaqua, who chairs the 
Sierra Club's Westchester Airport Committee. "At one point there was a meeting 
scheduled, but it was canceled. That's the way it has gone. They haven't wanted 
public involvement."

That's not so, said County Legislator David Gelbarb, R-Rye Brook, whose 
district includes the airport.

"My district is concerned and would like to know when we plan to have a public 
hearing," he said. "To date the master plan is not yet finished, so there is 
ample time for stakeholder input."

McCormack said the county's consultant has been meeting with town officials and 
their staffs, the county Airport Advisory Board, county employees, and airport 
employees. The public, he said, would be asked for its input after the draft 
plan is completed, and is submitted in full to the FAA and the Board of 
Legislators.

"Meetings would be scheduled subsequent to that," McCormack wrote. "A full set 
of preliminary alternatives has not yet been completed. The approach is to hold 
the informational meetings once the full set is complete."

Astorino's surprise announcement of the privatization deal in early November - 
and his hope to have it quickly ratified a month later in December - could have 
delayed DY Consulting's finance plan. There is no mention in the contract for 
analyzing the impact of selling off airport revenues and relying on the private 
equity market to finance airport improvements.

McCormack said the privatization push and the financial study under the master 
plan are moving forward simultaneously.

"The programs are not interdependent," he wrote. "They can and are moving 
forward simultaneously."
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