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Latimer Pilots Change at Westchester County Airport

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Photo courtesy of Westchester County Government.

The Westchester County executive sets aside $12 million for noise and water pollution reduction at HPN in response to community input.

Before County Executive George Latimer took office in January 2018, one of his key campaign promises was to tackle issues surrounding Westchester County Airport with transparency and community input, including pollution. The 2021 county capital budget addresses some of these concerns, with nearly $12 million in appropriations earmarked specifically for HPN. We caught up with the county executive recently, to drill down into what these new appropriations mean.

Water Pollution: One of the most pressing concerns, according to the CE, is preventing pollutants in some of the drains at the airport from seeping into the ground water. “It is imperative that we as the county make efforts to ensure [the airport’s] surrounding neighbors are protected from its environmental impact,” says Latimer. In 2018, Latimer reinstated water testing and monitoring, but the 2021 capital budget allocates $8.7 million in additional funding for the storm-water management program and enhanced water-supply system. Additionally, the Board of Legislators authorized a $3.75 million bond act to complete remediation measures as part of the county’s Storm Drain Replacement project. Specifically, the project focuses on the drains at Outfall No. 7, where there are elevated concentrations of pollutants. The bond act, Latimer notes, “is not coming from individuals’ county tax bills. This money is coming from the airport fund, which is funded by the airport revenue streams.”

Noise Pollution: Another ongoing issue at the airport concerns management of noise levels. Although not pollution in a palpable sense, “noise is a different kind of pollution,” Latimer says. While it is true that only a small percentage of the Westchester population live in the flight path of the airport, Latimer believes that resident complaints about noise levels are valid and should be a priority. Upgrades to the permanent noise monitors have already been completed, and new data already shows that noise levels are down dramatically. Additionally, portable monitors were placed in areas where there were large numbers of complaints but no nearby permanent monitor. Part of the noise reduction is due to recent reduced flight traffic, but the county executive asserts that the noise monitors have played a large role, as well.

Looking Ahead: Latimer says he is also exploring more permanent solutions. He hopes to use the data from the installation of the noise monitors to work with local communities and the FAA to convince the FAA to evaluate the flight paths at the airport. One possibility to be evaluated is a route closer to I-684. Federal laws and regulations limit what local governments can do to reduce noise and the number of flights. However, HPN’s grandfathered commercial gate and passenger limits do allow the County to have some control. Latimer is also looking at the general aviation side of the airport for opportunities to reduce flights. “For [the people who live nearby], the noise at the airport is everything,” he says.

To move forward with the master plan, Latimer wants to open the doors to in-person, public comment. Hearings were delayed in 2020, due to the pandemic, but Latimer believes public feedback is essential, adding that he hopes to schedule them later this year. “We’re committed to doing whatever is necessary to make sure that there isn’t any significant or health-impacting pollution,” Latimer says.