By Lindsay Emery
Westchester County Executive George Latimer signed two executive orders last Wednesday at Westchester County Airport that aim to protect the surrounding watershed.
Latimer introduced the first order that ensures groundwater testing at the airport for pollutants after the program was discontinued in 2011. The second order will ban the use of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the airport once it is permitted by federal law, Latimer said. PFAS is a type of chemical that has been found in water sources and had once been used at the airport.
Latimer was joined by County Legislator Nancy Barr (D-Rye Brook) who introduced legislation that would codify the executive orders, preventing future administrations from discontinuing well water testing. The testing program was discontinued eight years ago without the approval of the legislators and without public dialogue, Latimer said.
“I think that we feel in the legislature that this is our job to protect the health and safety of our residents and that’s precisely what this law does and it shouldn’t be up to the whim of whoever happens to be the county executive at the time,” Barr said.
She said it is her job as a lawmaker to protect people’s health and safety and protect the water supply. There are many bodies of water around Westchester County, including ones near the airport, said Barr, whose district includes communities just to the south of the airport.
George Klein, chairman of the Coalition to Prevent Westchester Airport Expansion and Peter Schlactus of the Westchester County Airport Advisory Board, both applauded the signing of the executive orders and look forward to working with the Latimer administration.
“These executive orders and the follow-up legislation to make them permanent are a sign that this administration, which has been talking about being concerned about the airport and its effects on the environment and public health, is actually doing something,” Klein said.
Schlactus echoed Klein’s comments, saying many airport-related issues are finally getting the attention that is warranted. Further collaboration between the community and the administration is possible in the future, he said.
Westchester County Attorney John Nonna explained the history of the PFAS in firefighting foams that were used by the Air National Guard until 1983 for firefighting training. The use of these foams led to groundwater contamination that is still showing up in the test wells, Nonna said.
In addition to the executive orders, Latimer also discussed the Westchester County Airport Master Plan. He anticipates it will be completed over the next 18 months.
“Whatever has been done up to this point is inadequate, or dated at best,” Latimer said. “We have not had a full, proper Master Plan of this airport since 1989.”
The Latimer administration has also asked a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representative to come to Chappaqua for a public meeting to listen to residents, some of whom have been disturbed over the last couple of years by the increasing noises levels from flights landing at the airport, Latimer said. New Castle Councilman Jeremy Saland announced on Facebook last Tuesday that the county has contracted with the consulting firm Harris Miller Miller & Hanson to conduct the first phase of a noise study.
“We need the FAA to see what that problem is, understand it and then help us come up with solutions that will deal with the actual issue on the ground,” Latimer said.