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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
"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
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
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
"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
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