Critics of a garbage plant near LaGuardia Airport urged a federal appeals court on Wednesday to force the city to defend itself against claims the facility will increase the hazard of collisions between airplanes and birds it attracts.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments by lawyers for the Federal Aviation Administration and a group called Friends of LaGuardia Airport Inc. but did not immediately rule.
The issue was taken to the appeals court after the FAA dismissed the city from an administrative complaint in which the group claimed construction of the waste transfer station will raise the risk of serious bird collisions with planes similar to what happened to US Airways Flight 1549, which was hit by a flock of geese following takeoff from LaGuardia in January 2009 and lost both engines but landed safely in the Hudson River.
"It is ultimately about the birds," the group's attorney, Randy Mastro, said outside court.
The facility is located 2,200 feet from the end of LaGuardia's Runway 31.
Department of Justice lawyer Abby Wright defended the FAA, telling the appeals court that the agency acted properly in dismissing the city from the challenge.
In court papers, the government said the FAA has determined that the North Shore Marine Transfer Station is not a hazard to New York's airspace. It said that if that the facility became a threat, the FAA could force changes through the airport's operator, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, or by ordering a modification of flight procedures to ensure air safety.
Friends of LaGuardia said in its court papers: "By removing the city as a respondent to this action, FAA has, once again, given the city a free pass to endanger air safety and human life by constructing a bird-attracting waste transfer station a mere 2,000 feet from the approach end of one of the busiest runways in the world."
The FAA prohibits garbage facilities within 2,500 feet of the ends of most runways at major airports. The protected zone can be as small as 1,700 feet when runways such as those at LaGuardia have rules limiting landings during bad weather.
The transfer station is scheduled to open next year after four years of construction. After Flight 1549 was forced into the Hudson River, the city agreed to install spikes to discourage birds from perching on the transfer station. It also eliminated ledges on the building and took other steps to scare birds off.
At the transfer station, workers will put trash from garbage trucks into containers, which will then be shipped by barge to landfills. The city has said the transfer area will be enclosed and bird-proof.
Wednesday's arguments were in a federal appeals court because appeals of certain FAA decisions go directly there rather than to a federal trial court.