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Stewart Airport seeks $20M for Customs facility

Stewart Airport seeks $20M for Customs facility

NEW YORK: The Port Authority’s board of commissioners adopted a draft $29.5 billion capital plan for 2017-2026 on Thursday, but not before they heard two appeals to change it.

One was from a contingent of New Jersey legislators who wanted more than $3.5 billion committed toward the construction of a new Port Authority Bus Terminal, a project that could easily cost as much as $10 billion.

And the other was from Louis Heimbach, chairman of the Stewart Airport Commission, who wanted $20 million committed toward the construction of a U.S. Customs facility to process international flights at the Orange County airport.

Pointing out that the expansion of the terminal to accommodate a federal inspection station has been an on-again, off-again project since 2011, Heimbach speculated that the Port Authority had concluded “If we build it, they will come” wasn’t a viable rationale for this investment. “Well, they’re coming,” Heimbach said. “Norwegian Air is coming.”

The budget carrier announced in December that it wanted to begin low-cost flights between Stewart and Europe as soon as it takes delivery of new Boeing 737 planes in July. The prospect immediately raised concerns among Stewart boosters that the delay in expanding the terminal would compromise the plan.

The Port Authority has refused to comment on Norwegian, but a U.S. Customs spokesman said his agency would be able to adjust its operations at Stewart to handle regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights.

Heimbach got an appreciative laugh from the audience when he added that he had “nothing to trade off with you” in exchange for the $20 million.

New Jersey legislators had complained that the two states’ governors had abandoned any clear-eyed assessment of regional needs and turned the development of the capital plan into “a Monopoly game,” “a quid pro quo plan,” “a personal slush fund” and “a political horse-trade.”