A plan to begin mowing 290 acres of grassland bird habitat at the Atlantic City International Airport, and replace it at an estimated cost of $3 million, never came up for discussion at the South Jersey Transportation Authority’s board meeting Wednesday.
Neither did State Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plan to have the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey purchase the airport from the SJTA.
But then again, nothing really came up for discussion.
The board spent most of its time in executive session, came out to hear the executive director’s report, then quickly passed three resolutions on contracts without any questions asked or explanations offered.
The grassland has been maintained as a sanctuary for endangered and threatened birds for 15 years, under a 2004 agreement with the Pinelands Commission that allowed other development to occur at the airport.
Now the SJTA has asked the commission to let it amend the agreement.
The SJTA has said it wants to begin mowing the grasslands to stop attracting birds and mammals to the area for safety reasons, and to comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements. But New Jersey Audubon has said mowing will only attract larger birds that can be more dangerous to planes, like geese and gulls. The Pinelands Commission has said it will likely make a decision at its April 12 meeting.
SJTA will likely have to replace the 290 acres with grasslands habitat elsewhere, at an estimated cost of $3 million.
SJTA board member James “Sonny” McCullough, the former Egg Harbor Township mayor, had to interrupt an attempt to adjourn the meeting and insist on making a public statement about the mowing request.
McCullough said the commission is requiring a costly financial solution, and if it delays permission to mow much longer, it will compromise safety “plus the future development of that particular area, which could provide jobs and make the Atlantic City airport and surrounding area better.”
The airport is trying to attract aviation cargo and maintenance operations to the airport.
After the meeting, SJTA spokesman Mark Amorosi said via email that the grass would be cut to between 6 and 12 inches tall, which is the height the FAA recommends within the Airport Operations Area (AOA). It has no plans to put cargo or maintenance buildings there, he said.
The AOA is the secure area around runways and other areas where the planes move and its environs.
“These grass heights are less of an attractant to geese and gulls,” he said.
The FAA also says that airports should not maintain or create wildlife attractants within 10,000 feet of the AOA, he said.
The SJTA’s current agreement with the Pinelands Commission restricts mowing the Grassland Conservation Management Area between April 15 and Aug. 15.