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TOWN OF NEW WINDSOR v. RONAN

August 12, 1971

TOWN OF NEW WINDSOR, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
WILLIAM J. RONAN, et al., Defendants


Frankel, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANKEL

FRANKEL, District Judge:

Plaintiffs seek the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction to block a state exercise of the eminent domain power where the particular takings have been authorized by the state legislature to meet projected needs for airport facilities. The papers are lengthy and learned on both sides. For reasons outlined below, the motion of plaintiffs and a cross-motion of certain defendants will be denied.

 I.

 To set the scene very briefly, the court could notice, what everyone knows and the papers before us show, that the metropolitan centers of the world are beset by problems of noise, congestion and danger attendant upon jet air transportation and overtaxed airport facilities. Deep questions as to how many of the trips are necessary remain subjects for controversy elsewhere. For our purposes it may be accepted that the existing and dimly foreseeable problems require long-range planning, estimates of contingencies and, where possible, provision for alternative courses of action in light of future developments. Defendants' papers portray informally, but without dispute, the current travail of Los Angeles, which is reportedly in process of spending some $200,000,000 to acquire land and almost 2,000 homes around its International Airport, where expectable problems of increasing airplane noise should probably have precluded building of those dwellings in the first place.

 The area involved in the present case centers around Stewart Airport near Newburgh, New York. Originally built as a municipal airport for Newburgh in about 1930, Stewart became an Air Force base in 1942 and was a military installation until 1970. On March 1, 1970, the defendant Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) began to operate the Airport as lessee and licensee of the Defense Department. In July 1970, MTA acquired title to 1590 acres of the facility, leaving 542 acres still owned and used by the Federal Government.

 The New York Legislature passed in April of this year, and amended in May, "An Act to authorize the establishment of an airport for the accommodation of domestic and international air travel and freight transport at Stewart airport and the making of an appropriation therefor." Signed by the Governor in June, the Act as amended grants to MTA authority

 
"to establish, construct, expand, rehabilitate, improve, maintain, reconstruct and operate at Stewart airport * * * an airport for the accommodation of domestic and international air freight transport, general aviation and such other airport purposes for which there may be need from time to time."

 The Act gave MTA $30,000,000 for the costs of this enterprise, "including the acquisition of real property or interests therein." Shortly afterward, an additional $15,510,000 was granted as part of a supplemental budget. It is provided that if any federal money is received for the project, MTA may retain and apply it. If the need for acquired lands or interests "is not immediate," the MTA is to transfer possession to a subsidiary "specially created for the interim administration and management of such property." Provision is also made for state payments to local taxing units in lieu of taxes lost by the takings, the payments to be based upon a prescribed scheme of "transition assessments."

 Among the pertinent materials supplying the context of this state law is a Federal Aviation Administration Task Force Report issued in September 1970. The Task Force, as stated in the Foreword to its Report, was "concerned about increasing air traffic delays and airport congestion * * *." Accordingly, it

 
"undertook to develop a complete analysis of the demands on the New York metropolitan airport system, the expected growth factors for the area as related to national forecasts, and an appraisal of the capacities of the existing airport facilities, as well as the application of any theoretical improvements to these facilities that could be considered."

 It noted the consensus "that the existing New York airports cannot serve the area efficiently * * * or continue to cope with industrial expansion or with population growth factors." It recorded widespread views in responsible quarters that a failure to solve this problem could cause stagnation and economic hurt "to the New York metropolitan area and to the nation." Concerning the Stewart Airport, the Report said:

 
"Concurrent with the declaration of this airport as surplus to the needs of the Air Force by the Department of Defense, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been given approval and has accepted and commissioned the operation of this facility as a general aviation airport. The airport is 55 miles away from New York City and located adjacent to the New York State Thruway and Route 184. Its present acreage is 2,186 acres, with land to the west and southwest which is uninhabited and which appears to be available for the requirements of an expanded facility.
 
"There are no insurmountable topographic or airspace problems if expansion were to be considered. The location, from a ground access viewpoint, is good. The only limiting factor is a lack of a high speed ground transportation system. In addition to the highway accessibility noted above, the airport lies close to the Erie Lackawanna rail right of way whose spurs connect the site with Newark, New Jersey, and can provide additional improved rail links with New York City proper.
 
"The airport itself has two runways, one 7,000 feet long, and one 6,000 feet long, and is capable of handling medium range aircraft. The airport has a practical annual capacity of about 160,000 operations under its present configuration. It is located in an area of rapidly growing population and could significantly relieve the existing metropolitan area airports. It has the potential of being developed as a major air carrier airport, as well as a cargo and freight facility. Its ...

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