Jamaica Bay Restoration for JFK Airport Expansion?

Would you consider a trade-off of JFK Airport expansion for billions of dollars in funding to improve the environment of Jamaica Bay and surrounding neighborhoods?

What is the expansion of JFK Airport worth to New York City, State, and the Federal Government?  According to the Regional Plan Association, tens of billions of dollars per year in commerce, as well as tens of thousands of jobs.  Airports in the New York City metropolitan area are already severely over-committed, and JFK flight delays are by far the worst in the country.  Airport expansion is not only crucial to our region’s economy, but is a national issue because these delays “ripple through the national aviation network”. Moreover, continued constraints on air travel growth in the future will likely “weaken the nation’s ability to compete for global business”.

The Regional Plan Association has proposed fixes for the runway shortage, including expansion of JFK into 400 acres of Jamaica Bay as one option.  This represents only 1.6% of the current bay area, but several groups have joined together in protest of the additional degradation this would cause.  They happen to have a good hand to play – it is explicitly written into federal law that JFK cannot be extended further into Jamaica Bay.

My feeling is that this stalemate presents a golden opportunity – instead of resisting the effort to expand JFK, New Yorkers should seek an airport expansion deal that generously funds a long-term restoration effort.

As I laid out in a recent post, Jamaica Bay has many problems, such as sewage spills, low-oxygen dead zones, and disappearing marshes and islands.  Restoration of the bay can return it to something closer to its historic character, where it was filled with marshes, islands, and oysters.  Furthermore, it can protect hundreds of thousands of residents who live on land within range of a realistic 13-foot hurricane storm surge that could happen tomorrow — in that same post, I outlined how dredging of the bay’s entrance channel has led to a system that would amplify a hurricane storm surge.  New York City is already making great strides to reduce wastewater pollution in the Bay, but this doesn’t appear to be stopping the island erosion, as some had hoped.  A more bold restoration effort would in turn have a powerful positive effect on property values and reduce flood insurance costs in future decades.

What do you think – would you consider a trade-off of JFK Airport expansion for billions of dollars in funding to improve the environment of Jamaica Bay and its surrounding neighborhoods?  Or is the system already in good enough shape as it is?

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