Westchester County Rethinks Plan to Privatize Airport

Thu, May 17, 2018 • Westchester Airport

This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal

Westchester County Rethinks Plan to Privatize Airport
Executive George Latimer said the airport’s impact on the environment and how it interacts with its neighbors are priorities
By Joseph De Avila| Updated May 16, 2018, 3:59 p.m. ET

Westchester County officials are putting the brakes on a plan to privatize the county airport.

George Latimer, the Democratic county executive who took office in January and has been critical of the airport deal, said the county would re-evaluate the previous administration’s proposal that would hand over operations to a private company.

“What is the standard by which we give up public authority?” Mr. Latimer said at a news conference Wednesday.

“We ought to have a public debate about what is the trade-off.”

A few days after Republican County Executive Rob Astorino lost his bid for a third term in office this past November, his administration tapped Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. to take over the operations of the airport. Under that deal, Macquarie would have received a 40-year lease, during which it would have paid the county $595 million and invested $550 million in airport upgrades. The county legislature never voted on the accord and it never took effect.

Mr. Astorino had argued that the deal would make money for the county and produce a better-run airport. But some residents worried that would lead to more flights at the airport and more noise.

Mr. Latimer said the county legislature and the public will be allowed to weigh in on whether the county should hand over operations of the airport to a private firm.

Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin, a Democrat, said he looked forward to reviewing the privatization plan.

“Whatever choices are made about the best way to govern the airport, the decision-making process needs to be thorough and transparent,” Mr. Boykin said. “Any decisions must be sensitive to the concerns of everyone involved—taxpayers, airport customers and surrounding residents—while protecting our environment.”

If the county decides to privatize the airport, it could also review proposals from other companies, not just Macquarie, Mr. Latimer said.

“Since we didn’t adopt what happened last year, we are not bound to dealing with just that proposal,” Mr. Latimer said in reference to Macquarie’s offer.

A Macquarie spokeswoman said the company respects Mr. Latimer’s decision to review the privatization plan with the public. “We stand ready to participate in the discussion as he and his team deem appropriate,” she said.
While Mr. Latimer said the county could still move forward with privatization, he expressed skepticism about using the airport to make money. He said the airport’s impact on the environment, its role as a transportation hub and how it interacts with its neighbors were higher priorities for him.

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