[Teterboro Airport Index]
Defiantly waving signs and chanting slogans, approximately 250 protesters descended on Teterboro Airport June 7 to express their opposition to the airport they blame for poisoning their air and depriving them of sleep, and to mount a petition campaign to have the airport permanently shut down.
The throng of protesters came from all around South Bergen County, halting evening rush-hour traffic as they walked along Route 46 toward the regional airport, chanting "PA, go away," a reference to the airports operator, the Port Authority.
The petition, put forth by the Coalition for Public Health and Safety, which opposes airport expansion, calls upon the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders to put a referendum on the airports future on the November ballot.
Protesters cited the 24-hour noise disturbance from jets taking off and landing at the airport, and the environmental impact of jet fuel and fumes on their neighborhoods.
"Were getting planes at 2 or 3 in the morning, making all kinds of noise," said Paul Incalcatera, who brandished a sign reading "Sleepless Nights. Stop the Flights. Stop the Noise," on one side, and on the other side, a chart detailing the times of 82 flights that has passed over his neighborhood just the previous day.
"There is a plane overhead every two or three minutes, and the noise is just unbelievable."
"We dont get a full nights sleep, ever," said Dina Rowell, also of South Hackensack. "Planes go right over our schools all day long. Teachers have to stop class because the children cant hear them."
But some say the noise is just the beginning of the problem.
"More important than the noise, I am concerned about what we are breathing and especially what our children are breathing," said Corinne Wehrle, of Little Ferry. "The buffers to this airport are private homes. Twenty years from now, what are they going to say, that we should not have put this airport in such a populated area?"
"I have a pool, and there is a coating of jet fuel in my pool all summer long," added Rowell.
Local officials who support the referendum initiative argued that Teterboro occupies valuable space that could be better used for schools and public parks.
"The airport doesnt belong here," Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan said. "Planes are going to get bigger, the airport is going to get busier. We need to start looking outside of the box, and find what we would really like Bergen County to look like 25 years from now.
"I have a vision of what Bergen County if going to be like, and a county dominated by an airport is not my vision," Lonegan explained.
But other officials doubted the likelihood of Teterboros being closed. Bergen County Executive William "Pat" Schuber, who attended the protest, said that the primary goal should be to restrict the airports operation.
"The airport has been here a long time," Schuber said. "Im not sure I would support closing it. I just think there has to be some tight restrictions on its utilization."
Specifically, Schuber said that he would support a nighttime curfew for traffic at the airport, and limitations on its future growth.
Other local officials who attended the protest agreed that the communities should work to restrict the airports expansion and curtail nighttime noise.
"We have to be practical of what we can accomplish here," said Wood-Ridge Mayor Paul Sarlo. "The most important thing is that we get restrictions on this airport, that we dont expand it any further."
Despite the protests, officials for Port Authority continue to insist that future airport expansion at Teterboro is not in the works. The airport operator has allocated $92 million for airport renovation, but officials insist that money well be used to improve the airports existing infrastructure, and not to allow more or larger planes to land at the airport.
Pasquale DiFulco, spokesman for the Port Authority, said the organization remains committed to responding to the concerns of residents. He pointed to statistics that show that the total number of flight movements at Teterboro has remained at a constant level over the last several years.
According to the statistics provided by the Port Authority, the airport saw 182,888 flight movements last year, as compared to 185,375 movements in 1999.
"We have no intention of expanding runways, no plans to encourage traffic at Teterboro," DiFulco said.
DiFulco also pointed to ongoing efforts to address the noise and environmental issues as evidence of the Port Authoritys willingness to work with the surrounding communities. In recent months, the FAA has undertaken a study to determine the impact of aircraft noise from Teterboro on the community. In addition, the Port Authority recently commissioned an environmental study in conjunction with Rutgers University that is expected to take two years at a total cost of more than $1 million.
DiFulco also said that the Port Authority would have no comment on the petition to close the airport until they saw a copy of the proposal.
But officials with the Coalition for Public Health and Safety remain unconvinced of Port Authoritys willingness to seriously address their concerns. The Coalition if currently undertaking a $42,000 environmental study of its own, which is expected to take 90 days to complete.
"The Port Authority has a history of bending the truth and finagling things to get their own way," said Wood-Ridge Councilman Richard Carbonaro, who represents the borough on the Coalition. "Its all a smoke screen."
Carbonaro said he would like to see the Coalition organize additional protests in the months to come.
"We finally have a unity of 13 towns. There is strength in numbers." Carbonaro said. "I think the powers that be are starting to get a little worried."