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Privatizing Westchester County Airport Is Topic Of Panel Discussion

David McKay Wilson
David McKay Wilson Photo Credit: Provided

A local news columnist and a conservationist will air their views Tuesday about plans to privatize Westchester County Airport.

Journal News columnist David McKay Wilson and Carolyn Cunningham of Federated Conservationists are set to speak at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the SUNY Purchase College Humanities Building theatre in Purchase.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino wants to sell off $2 billion in County Airport revenues over 40 years for $150 million. It’s a deal that Wilson, who is the Journal News Tax Watch columnist, has called a bad deal for taxpayers, with the projected "loss of tens of millions of dollars, and control over the county’s aviation jewel up by Anderson Hill."

At Tuesday's talk, titled “The Perils of Privatization,” you can hear Wilson’s analysis of Astorino’s deal, and its implications for taxpayers and the region’s flyers. The discussion is co-sponsored by The Journal News/lohud and the Journalism and Environmental Studies boards of study at Purchase College.

Kicking off the talk with be Cunningham, a Rye resident who has a degree in environmental studies from Purchase. She’ll talk about the history of the community’s fight to control the airport inclduing a passenger cap and voluntary midnight curfew written into federal aviation statutes.

Wilson will explore the financial implications of giving up county control at the airport for the next four decades. He’ll also talk about the important role journalists can play in influencing public policy.

Wilson’s Nov. 13, 2016, Tax Watch column on the no-bid airport privatization deal -– which can be read by clicking here -- revealed the secret deal struck by Astorino with the infrastructure investment team at Oaktree Capital Management, one of the world’s most prominent private equity firms.

A month later, the county Board of Legislators included the privitization deal in the county budget, even though the panel had decided to slow down the process. Citing the secret deal, and their desire to conduct a proper request-for-proposals, the county is now selecting a consultant who is expected to release a RFP this winter to see what the market would bear if they decided it was a good idea to move in that direction for the next 40 years.

Wilson's latest column over the county’s secret master plan resulted in the county’s pledge to have the tardy report completed by the end of April. He’s now on a second round of Freedom of Information requests, and appeals to County Attorney Robert Meehan to obtain what so far has been submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The talk will take place at Purchase College, which borders the airport. The college’s Purchase Park2Fly operation has offered a cheaper alternative to parking at the airport's parking garage, which was privatized in 1994. Revenue from the Purchase parking initiative goes toward student scholarships, road and lot maintenance repairs, and general campus infrastructure.

It costs $30 a day to park at the airport terminal. Park2Fly charges $11 a day to park at Purchase College and get shuttled over to the terminal.

One of the key issues reported by Wilson is the county bonanza in 2024 when the parking garage is finally in public hands, with its $11 million in annual revenues. If the airport gets privatized, an estimated $350 million in parking revenues over 32 years will go to the private equity firm.

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