Laura Francoeur’s Job is for the Birds (and the Terrapins)

By Alana Calmi, Media Relations Staff

Chasing Diamondback terrapins from runways and harassing geese and other birds from airport property is all in a day’s work for Laura Francoeur.

As the Port Authority’s first Chief Wildlife Biologist, Francoeur works on wildlife mitigation across the five airports owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It’s not necessarily the job many would immediately associate with maintaining safe and efficient airport operations, but her role is essential.

With 17 years at the Port Authority, Francoeur has encountered an array of wildlife issues she had never imagined. She is based at John F. Kennedy International Airport and also has oversight of Newark Liberty International Airport and LaGuardia, Teterboro and Stewart airports.

LauraKnown for being one of the busiest airports in the nation, JFK is home to a diverse ecosystem comprising various types of vegetation and the animals that thrive from them. Francoeur explains that with Jamaica Bay surrounding the airport, the area attracts an assortment of wildlife.

Every year in early summer, JFK becomes home to hundreds of Diamondback terrapins looking for a place to lay their eggs. Francoeur and her team collect the terrapins, inspect turtlethem, tag them with a small chip if they don’t already have one, and release them just outside the fencing around the airport.

While it might seem a small issue, it is in fact a potential hazard to planes traveling to and from the airport. Fencing was installed around the airport perimeter to keep the terrapins out, but many still manage to find a way in. Those that do are usually captured short of the runways.

Another issue that airports around the world face are bird strikes—from a small bird hitting a windshield to an engine ingesting a flock. There are a number of different species of birds that inhabit the areas surrounding JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty.

Assisted by Senior Wildlife Biologist Jeff Kolodzinski, Francoeur continues to develop strategies to drive birds from the airports’ airspace to avoid a strike, using a mixture of human and technological tactics. CNN profiled Port Authority bird mitigation efforts in this 2016 report:


The New York Wildlife Services established wildlife management at airports starting with JFK in 1979. Since then, the presence of wildlife at airports is constantly being addressed with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A Connecticut College graduate, Francoeur discovered her passion for wildlife through a friend of a friend who needed to borrow her typewriter to fill out an application. When Francoeur asked what the application was for, she learned it was for an internship with the Student Conservation Association. With her primary interest in wildlife damage management— the intersection of people in wildlife and the problems that ensue— the internship was an incredible opportunity to expand her understanding.

“I thought it was the coolest thing! You apply with this non-profit group and they link you up with natural resource agency internships, some with wildlife but they could also deal with archeology. I ended up working for the Bureau of Land Management,” says Francoeur.

During her internship, she inventoried springs and seeps (usually groundwater that reaches the earth’s surface) in the Vermillion Cliffs north of Phoenix, and other parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona Strip District. She also monitored vegetation and wildlife use of those areas.

She received her Master’s degree in wildlife biology from Clemson University, working on deer damage to crops. “I thought I might end up in a more agricultural setting but when I got my first job it was working at airports and landfills, and I thought the airside is really interesting – landfills, not as much,” she says.

Francoeur has played an integral part in changing wildlife policies across the airports. With technology constantly changing and improving, her teams tests different options for wildlife management. “We try to keep up with technology as it evolves. Some things that work at other airports might not be the best for us,” says Francoeur.

While LaGuardia has much less acreage, it also has less wildlife to manage compared to JFK with its nearly 5,000 acres. JFK and Newark Liberty use fencing, or grid wires, laid over larger areas of turf to keep out geese. Diamondback terrapins nesting at JFK is unique among Port Authority airports, and other U.S. airports. Countless airports have turtle issues, but none that seem to have terrapins, which are actually a species of sea turtle and different from other freshwater turtles.

Francoeur said her Port Authority experience has lived up to expectations. Having worked at a smaller airport, Richmond International, she saw the potential in moving to New York.

“I really do enjoy the work I get to do at our airports,” she said. “It’s incredible that we can run such large airports in all these different and diverse environments.”

Posted in Uncategorized

The GWB: A Rhapsody in Steel

By Ashley Germinario, Media Relations Staff

Over the years, the clinks and clanks of the majestic George Washington Bridge have inspired musicians and composers to express their musical skills in highly creative ways.

From the early days of the bridge’s construction, musicians felt an immediate connection to its large steel beams, its classic structure and the sounds the great span produced. The legendary American composer Aaron Copland was inspired by the rhythmic sound of the bridge’s construction; the low-pitched drill of the GWB during its construction made an appearance in his “Symphonic Ode,” which debuted in 1929, two years before the bridge opened.

The very first Pulitzer-Prize winner for music, Bronx native William Schuman, also expressed his endearment for this landmark through song. His triumphant 1950 composition “George Washington Bridge” illustrates the impact the architecture of someone’s birthplace can have on the creative mind. These musicians have the ability to take in what they see, and convert that into music that lights up the imagination.

GWB Blog #1

“Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied, assuming different moods depending on the time of day or night, the weather, the traffic and, of course, my own mood as I pass by,” Schuman once wrote.

To listen to Schumann’s ode to the GWB, as performed by the United States Marine Band:

Besides inspiring onlookers and musicians, the GWB is a work of art in itself. Othmar Ammann, the bridge’s brilliant chief engineer, had a vision that took the GWB from a mere idea to a functioning facility that handled more than 5.5 million vehicles in its first full year of operation. The bridge originally was to be encased in stone, but the prohibitive cost and the advent of the Depression during construction made it an unaffordable luxury. Today, it supports more than 103 million vehicles per year, making it the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge.

At the bridge’s opening ceremony in 1931, John F. Galvin, then chairman of the Port Authority, proclaimed, “this massive structure is as beautiful as it is graceful. It is a dream of 75 years come true. It is the first over-water connection spanning this great river between Manhattan and the rest of the North American Continent. It is truly one of the world’s wonders and a marvel of engineering skill.”

As Schuman would later put it: “It’s difficult to imagine a more gracious welcome or dramatic entry to the great metropolis.”

GWB Blog #2

Posted in George Washington Bridge, Uncategorized

The “Summer of Help”

By Joe Iorio and Ashley Germinario, Media Relations Staff

Throughout PATH’s successful cross-honoring operation during the so-called “summer of hell,” more than 100 “ambassadors” sporting bright-yellow vests have played an essential role in keeping passengers moving.

These ambassadors are Port Authority employees and interns volunteering their time and energy to provide information and assist with passenger flow at Hoboken, 33rd Street and World Trade Center stations, where tens of thousands of additional NJ Transit customers are cross-honored each day during Amtrak’s infrastructure renewal project at New York Penn Station.

Since July 10, ambassadors have helped ease commuter uncertainties and aided PATH in handling an average weekday increase of more than 22,000 NJT riders a day. Whether explaining directions, answering questions or just offering a warm smile and a wave to brighten the day of customers, Port Authority ambassadors share a common goal of helping their customers.

No matter their work location or department, whether a summer intern or 20-year veteran, PATH could not maintain high levels of safety and operational efficiency during the Amtrak Penn Station project without their assistance.

“Preparing and executing a strategy to meet the demands of this significant ridership increase is a true team effort,” said PATH General Manager/Director Mike Marino. “Our ambassadors have done a great job of helping facilitate a smoother commute for both our regular customers and our new customers from NJT Midtown Direct trains.”

Portfolio recently visited the front lines of the cross-honoring effort at Hoboken and 33rd Street, for a sense of who the ambassadors are and their perspectives on a summer of hell that, to date, has been less than hellish.

PORT1

 From left: PATH Passenger Information Agent Philip Silvestro, Intern Grace Ostolozaga, Station Supervisor Lorraine Orosz, Intern Elliot Sotnick and PATH Senior Planning Engineer Keniven Coughlin.

PATH Station Supervisor Lorraine Orosz. After six years with the Port Authority in four different positions, Lorraine said that she has found a home at PATH because of the unique work environment. No two days are ever the same, she says.

Orosz has spent every weekday morning rush hour since July 10 at Hoboken to help usher NJ Transit customers onto PATH trains bound for Manhattan. She is building personal relationships with many of the regular riders now relying on the PATH system to get them to work in the morning. She thinks people were pleasantly surprised with how well PATH accommodated the extra daily influx of NJT cross-honored passengers.

PORT 2

Addison Lovell, Assistant PATH Station Supervisor. Lovell has worked for the Port Authority for more than 29 years, bringing a positive attitude to work with him every day. Managing the daily crowds at the 33rd Street station during the Penn Station project this summer has been a breeze because, he says, he enjoys “managing chaos.” Not that there’s been an abundance of chaos. Lovell explained the 33rd Street station has maintained a great atmosphere with no problems thus far.

port-31.jpg

Keniven Coughlin, PATH Senior Planning Engineer. During a recent Hoboken shift, Coughlin said he believes that commuters have “completely adjusted” to their new work routes, and are becoming more friendly with the volunteers waving them through the turnstiles.

PORT 4

Atul Ragoowansi, Port Authority Senior Program Manager. A 25-year Port Authority veteran, Ragoowansi spent a recent shift at the 33rd Street PATH station cross-honoring NJT customers. During a peak afternoon shift, he found the atmosphere was “pretty calm and things worked out pretty well.”

Port 5

Port Authority Intern Rahul Ochani. Ochani, a student at St. John’s University, has manned several shifts at 33rd Street. Being an ambassador, he said, gives him the opportunity to interact with customers, limit any confusion and answer any and all questions they have about their travels. He and his fellow volunteers have received frequent compliments from commuters on their hard work and efforts to keep things running smoothly.

FullSizeRender

 

World Trade Center Construction Intern Elliot Sotnick (center). Sotnick is an engineering student at Cornell University who has worked a series of cross-honoring assignments at the Hoboken station. He was part of an ambassador team dispatched on the first shift of the first morning.

“Things have gone much better than my shift on the first day of service changes at Penn Station,” he said. “I thought I would see a lot more people angry with the process, but surprisingly, most people were calm and patient.”

PATH is still seeking additional volunteers for shifts at Hoboken, 33rd Street and World Trade Center stations. Port Authority employees interested in volunteering should contact their supervisor for more details.

 

 

Posted in PATH, PATH customer service, Uncategorized, WTC PATH station