[Teterboro Airport Index]
400 rally to close Teterboro Airport
By LISA GOODNIGHT and ELISE YOUNG
TETERBORO -- Shouting into bullhorns to drown out the jets overhead, 400 protesters Thursday night launched a petition campaign to shut down Teterboro Airport.
Organizers hope to force Bergen County to put a referendum question on a ballot later this year, allowing voters to decide the airport's fate. In return, Bergen County Executive William "Pat" Schuber said he would support efforts for a quieter, cleaner airport, but he stopped short of saying he would work to close it.
"This was meant to be a community-type airport, and it's well beyond that," Schuber told the crowd, adding that he would work to enforce a curfew on the airport's operating hours.
In recent months, neighbors have complained that the airport is getting busier, contributing more noise and pollution. They say they fear for their safety, mindful of a plane crash in Hasbrouck Heights that killed four in December 1999.
The petition, to be submitted to the county in time for the November elections, says the airport "poses a threat to the health and well-being" of county residents -- a point disputed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport.
Pasquale DiFulco, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment on the petition. But he said the airport has no intention of expanding, and the operators submitted to a voluntary curfew, curtailing flights between midnight and 6 a.m. Less than 7 percent of the airport's average daily flights now use the runways between those hours, he said.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Aviation Association, which promotes the state's flight industry, said the protesters simply can't make the airport disappear.
"It's going to stay there, and it's going to function," said group President Thomas Carver.
"You'd lose $469 million minimum in economic [benefits]. You would see businesses relocating," Carver said. "If it closed down, a good portion of the traffic would attempt to go to places like Newark. It would create worse delays than we have now, and more noise."
Teterboro opponents are only the latest to join a growing movement against regional airports.
New Yorkers who live near Westchester County Airport have been calling for a legal curfew at that facility, which sees 1 million passengers a year. The airport was briefly subject to a court-ordered curfew, which later became voluntary.
Last year, after some airlines started operating outside the curfew, a congresswoman introduced a bill to make the curfew law. The bill died in committee.
In 1998, a group of Long Island residents lined up to fight an expansion of Gabreski Airport in Suffolk County, saying they were left out of hearings about the airport's future.
At Teterboro on Thursday night, some protesters said even a more stringent curfew just won't do.
Outside the airport's entrance on Fred Wehran Drive, mothers pushed their children in strollers, and an elderly couple marched wearing winter earmuffs. Even if all their words could not be heard, the activists made their point with the help of homemade signs, and motorists along Fred Wehran Drive honked in support.
"It's 10 o'clock," one activist's homemade sign said. "Do you know what your kids are breathing?"
Another sign said: "We'd rather have birds in our trees than planes," and another said: "Jet fuel makes me sick."
Whenever jets speeded overhead, the protesters booed and chanted, "PA, go away," a reference to the Port Authority.
"Emotion runs high because of the stress and the abuse, " said Hackensack resident Lorelei Koran, a member of the Hackensack Environmental Commission. "It's very frustrating."
"Who voted to open the airport? We should have a referendum to close it," said Paul Griffo, a Rutherford resident who identified himself as a member of the Alliance of Municipalities Concerning Air Traffic.
"In my neighborhood, there are four homes for sale. The people will no longer tolerate all the fumes and the noise," South Hackensack Mayor Nick Brando said before the rally. "Teterboro Airport really has disturbed our lifestyle."
Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, chairman of a 12-town coalition that formed this year to combat the airport, said the airport "doesn't fit here."
"Our quality of life would be so much better without these planes," he said.
Lonegan acknowledged that taking on the Port Authority -- and winning -- would be an immense task. But at the least, he said, the issue should be debated.