Landfills and Transfer Stations Often Sited Near Airports, Contrary to FAA Guidance

In recent months, the City of New York’s ill-advised construction of a waste transfer station 2,000 feet from the end of one of the busiest runways in the world (Runway 31 at LaGuardia Airport) has received much attention.  However, the City of New York is not the only scofflaw when it comes to siting solid waste disposal facilities near airports.  The Forward Landfill in Stockton, California, and the Winnebago Landfill in Rockfield, Illinois, both of which are less than 10,000 feet from a federally-assisted airport are currently planning to expand their operations.  Likewise, the Bankhead Transfer Station has been proposed for the Riverline area in Cobb  County, Georgia, which is just over 6,000 feet from Fulton County Airport.

What has not been reported in the news stories about these expansions is whether or not the landfill owner/operator  received permission from the FAA and/or the USDA to expand its operations.  Advisory Circular (which is mandatory for federally-assisted airports, like Stockton Metro, Chicago/Rockford International, and Fulton County) 5200-33B entitled “Hazardous Wildlife Attractants On or Near Airports,”  states very clearly “Notwithstanding more stringent requirements for specific land uses, the FAA recommends a separation distance of 10,000 feet at [ . . . ] airports for any of the hazardous wildlife attractants mentioned in Section 2 . . . This distance is to be maintained between an airport’s A[irport] O[perations] A[rea] and the hazardous wildlife attractant.”  Indeed, the same Advisory Circular goes on to require a separation distance of 5 miles in certain instances.  Both the EPA and the FAA require that analyses be done to determine the impact of the solid waste facility on the airport’s operations and safety.  Indeed, in certain instances, federal law prohibits the creation of landfills near airports because of the bird hazards they create.   See 49 U.S.C. § 44718(d).

In addition, by allowing the expansion of the landfills and the construction of the transfer station, the airports in question could be in violation of their Grant Assurances that it gives to the FAA when it accepts federal funding for its projects.  One of those Grant Assurances states that the airport “will take appropriate action to assure that such terminal airspace as is required to protect instrument and visual operations to the airport (including established minimum flight altitudes) will be adequately cleared and protected by removing, lowering, relocating, marking, or lighting or otherwise mitigating existing airport hazards and by preventing the establishment or creation of future airport hazards.” And, in addition the airport “will take appropriate action, to the extent reasonable, including the adoption of zoning laws, to restrict the use of land adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the airport to activities and purposes compatible with normal airport operations, including landing and takeoff of aircraft.”  Violation of grant assurances could result in the airport not receiving any federal funding.  14 C.F.R., Part 16.

Another similar consequence to the airports allowing the landfills to expand and the transfer station to be constructed is that such expansion and construction will restrict the development of the airports.  The Advisory Circular states “[t]he FAA recommends against airport development projects that would increase the number of aircraft operations or accommodate larger or faster aircraft near [solid waste facility] operations located within” 10,000 feet of an airport, or 5 miles in certain cases.

Thus, it would be advisable for opponents of the expansion of thelandfills and the construction of the transfer station to enlist the support of the airports’ owners and operators and ensure that the FAA studies the situation to ensure the safety of the flying public.

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