More subsidies for more massive airport-adjacent Amazon warehouses

On 14th February 2020 a massive Amazon warehouse near the entrance to New York Stewart Airport in Orange County, New York, measuring more than 1 million square-feet, was granted a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement by the Town of Montgomery Industrial Development Agency (IDA). The $20.5 million tax break was agreed with a 5-2 vote. It was reported that felling of nearly 190 acres of trees to make way for the warehouse, a ‘fulfilment center’, would begin four days later. The project site is immediately north-west of New York Stewart Airport, next to the intersection of two major highways, routes 17K and 747. The two satellite images below show the site in September 2019, pre-construction when the trees were still standing, and in December 2020, by which time trees have been felled and the warehouse building along with earthworks surrounding it and an access road are clearly visible.

Satellite imagery of the Amazon warehouse site in Montgomery (top left), next to New York Stewart Airport (bottom right). Use the slide bar in the middle of the two images to see the changes at the project site between September 2019 and December 2020.

Works at the site continue and the warehouse is scheduled for completion in time for the 2021 holiday shopping season, i.e. the beginning of November. At 1,010,880 square feet the warehouse, one of Amazon’s largest windowless giants, will be the largest building in Orange County. The facility will operate day and night 24/7, will have its own wastewater treatment plant and there will be a parking lot for 1,200 tractor-trailers and cars. Montgomery residents say that noise and dust from construction is having negative impacts on their lives. Many local residents had raised concerns over negative environmental impacts of increased traffic, potential contamination of nearby Tin Brook and stormwater runoff when the Amazon warehouse was approved, in February 2020. Local business owner Barbara Lerner, whose property abuts the eastern edge of the Amazon site, angered by approval of the warehouse, referred to two pending lawsuits against the project, one asserting that part of the warehouse site was improperly zoned, the other claiming that the developer had misrepresented the nature and character of the area.

Dan Berger, founder of a citizens’ group with 500 members, Residents Protecting Montgomery, said it was difficult to understand the rationale for IDA board members allowing a tax break for a large company like Amazon. The group’s ‘Mega Warehouses 101‘ document lists the concerns of the residents uniting to protect their town when officials fail to research the detrimental impacts of mega-warehouses, defer to warehouse firm laywers when questioned and seem determined to permit warehouse developments. Truck and car traffic will increase noise and air pollution and the scale of the warehouses and associated road traffic strains small town infrastructure including road maintenance, power grids, water usage, policing and fire services. A majority of the jobs are minimum wage, insufficient for workers to reside in Montgomery and lowering property values for existing residents due to zoning changes from residential to industrial and aesthetic impacts such as 40-foot high cement walls and 24-hour operations bringing light pollution at night. Zoning changes could pave the way for more warehouse development around the airport, on green space and farmland. Speaking about recommendations made by a study of the Route 17K corridor Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of the Orange Country Partnership, recommended creation of two economic development zones, one around the airport and another along 17K, which would permit commerical development on rural/agricultural areas.

Expanding Amazon’s footprint on Long Island

In May Amazon leased a planned warehouse in Woodmere, on an 11-acre site to the south of JFK Airport. The facility will be built and owned by JFK Logistics Center LLC, an affiliate of Wildflower Ltd., a Manhattan-based developer. Wildflower has been granted $16 million in economic development incentives by the Town of Hempsted Industrial Development Agency (IDA). An incentives package approved in April 2020 included a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement and exemptions from mortgage recording and sales taxes. The 422,000 square foot facility, a ‘last mile distribution center’ will be Amazon’s second largest in the region and brings the firm’s planned warehouse space in Long Island to more than 1.4 million square feet.

At the east end of Long Island, Gabreski Airport, located immediately to the north of Westhampton Beach village, in one of the wealthiest areas of New York, the Hamptons, hosts an Air Force Base and provides services for a wealthy clientele who can afford private jets, helicopters and single-engine recreational planes. Plans for an Amazon distribution hub on Suffolk County owned land near the airport are not landing well with the seaside village’s 2,000 inhabitants who are concerned over the potential increase in aircraft traffic. One resident with a summer home in the village said “it’s going to be horrible…I’m already hearing airplanes when I sit outside by the pool in summer. Can you imagine if Amazon is here?” Described in the New York Post as a ‘mammoth warehouse’ the 91,000 square foot facility may be large compared to other buildings in the beachfront village setting, but is dwarfed by many airport-adjacent Amazon facilities measuring up to 1 million square feet, and exceeding this scale in some instances.

In October 2020 Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency gave preliminary approval for $2.3 million in tax breaks for the developer of the Amazon warehouse near Gabreski Airport, Rechler Equity Partners. The incentives package also included a 53 per cent reduction in property taxes. Legislator Robert Trotta called the decision “unconscionable” and called for it to be immediately rescinded, saying that Amazon’s IDA application was “fraudulent”. Along with supporters he called for rescinded tax breaks because Amazon competes with small businesses, many of which were struggling because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Another legislator, Anthony Piccirillo, said the tax break pushes the tax burden “onto middle class and working families throughout Suffolk County”. Christopher McNamara, president of Greater Smithfield Chamber of Commerce, said Amazon did not need the tax break, “$2.3 million is a drop in the bucket to them, but to Suffolk County and to taxpayers of the county, we need it.” Nevertheless, Amazon secured the tax break in November 2020. Robert Trotta said that Rechler had misled Suffolk County by stating on an aid application that Amazon would select an out-of-state warehouse if lawmakers did not approve the tax breaks. Speaking to the New York Post he asked “Why are we giving billionaires tax breaks? The tax breaks they got should be immediately rescinded.”

In North Carolina and Oklahoma

In North Carolina, Amazon is planning a 620,000 square foot warehouse, a $100 million ‘import processing center’, in West Smithfield Industrial Park, next to Johnston Regional Airport. Johnston County has approved a seven year abatement on property taxes, accounting for 90 per cent of withholdings for the first three years the tapreing downwards to 50 per cent on year seven. Amazon will also get a five year grant on personal property. The total economic development investment grant over the seven year period amounts to more than $3.3 million. Johnston County officials worked on the deal for about six months before Amazon officially announced the plans in May 2021. If the project goes ahead as scheduled the facility will launch in 2022.

In Oklahoma, a new Amazon operations facility with a sortation center, next to Tulsa Airport, is anticipated to be completed later this year. The 270,000 square foot facility, Amazon’s third large project in Tulsa, will take up a 40 acre site, located on Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust (TAIT) land. Welcoming the expansion of Amazon’s footprint in Tulsa, Joe Robson, Chair of TAIT, said, “This initiative capitalizes on the use of available land that is adjacent to the airport as well as Highway 168, making it extremely attractive to companies looking to expand near Tulsa’s largest Industrial and transportation corridor.” TAIT will enter into a long-term land lease and Tulsa International Airport Development Trust (TIADT) will provide financing incentives through its Tax Increment Finance (TIF), whereby a firm keeps or captures any increases in property tax revenues from post-development increase in the value of their property. Alexis Higgins, CEO of TAIT, said “Property development is one of the airport’s key initiatives, and we are thrilled to have Amazon continue their investments here in Tulsa and on airport land”. Amazon’s new facility is the latest addition to the airport industrial complex which includes 4,900 acres hosting the city’s largest aviation, logistics and transportation providers. A further 700 acres of property are available for industrial development.

On farmland in Fargo

In North Dakota, a new Amazon distribution center near Fargo Airport (also known as Hector International Airport) might be built without tax breaks. Fargo City Commissioner Tony Gehrig told WXFG News that Amazon had not, as yet, asked for any tax breaks for the project, which would mean “more tax revenue for the community”. A large area area of farmland will be lost. The site, approximately 110 acres of farmland north of Fargo Airport, was recently annexed and rezoned by the City of Fargo. The new Amazon distribution center will be by far the largest building in the City of Fargo, and possibly the largest in the entire state of North Dakota. The massive fulfillment center will be 40 foot high with 1.3 million square foot of warehouse space. ‘Amazon is paying for two road projects to support its new facility, and preparing to seek bids for construction of new turn lanes (traffic lanes that allow vehicles to make a right or left turn at an intersection or into a side-road) on existing roads to facilitate access.

Amazon did not officially announce its Fargo warehouse project until October 2020, more than two months after work had started on the site when Fargo City Commission approved permits and zoning without naming the company involved. By January 2021 the pre-cast concrete walls were being erected. By April 2021 construction of the distribution center was moving forward at a rapid pace. Structural steel, roofing and the pre-cast walls were nearing completion and 1,300 yards of concrete were being poured daily for the interior floor. More warehouse development is proposed next to the Amazon distribution center, and might be supported by tax breaks. Minneapolis-based Hyde Development, is seeking a $5.25 million property tax break for an industrial park spanning 44 acres and hosting 643,000 square feet of warehouse space. More farmland would be paved over. The site is zoned for agricultural uses, a designation intended to protect farmland. But the City of Fargo’s land use plan is for industrial and commercial development in this area.

Land-based distribution hubs

Aside from the planned warehouse near JFK Airport, the airport-adjacent Amazon facilities mentioned above are not included in a recent map of the growing Amazon Air network of ‘air hubs’, many of which have direct access to the airfield. In contrast, these warehouses are land-based distribution hubs; positioning of the facilities takes advantage of airport proximity to major highways and interchanges along with the zoning of large areas of undeveloped land around airports for industrial development. The warehouses may well lead to an increase in air cargo as Amazon’s logistics network expands, but the emphasis is on surface transportation. All the Amazon warehouses are heralded by authorities and the mainstream media with claims of job creation. But much of the ‘new’ employment will displace jobs from elsewhere, from smaller-scale businesses that do not benefit from the tax breaks and other subsidies bestowed on Amazon. And tax breaks for Amazon are spiralling upwards. The Amazon Tracker, produced by Good Jobs First, tallies state and local economic susbidy deals given to Amazon throughout the USA. At the time of GAAM’s previous post about Amazon’s expanding footprint during the Covid-19 pandemic, in August 2020, subsidies granted to Amazon stood at $2,982,000,000. Just nine months later, in May 2021, this figure has increased by more than 25 per cent, to at least $4,092,000,000, and counting!

Bill calls for repeal of Bulacan Aerotropolis franchise

On 12th April a bill was submitted to the House of Representatives of the Philippines calling for repeal of a franchise granted to San Miguel Aerocity Inc., a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), to contruct, develop, establish, operate and maintain an airport and an adjacent airport city in Bulacan, on the northwest shore of Manila Bay. The bill, HB 9191, cites evidence of negative environmental impacts including loss and reclamation of land, alteration of river and drainage pathways, removal of flora and fauna and air pollution from construction and operations. Four major geohazards were identified: earthquakes, tidal and fluvial flooding, storm surge and subsidence. The bill states that the Environmental Impact Statment (EIS) that was the basis for approval of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued to SMC’s contractor, Silvertides, has been concealed from the public and affected fisherfolk. Silvertides’ February 2019 announcement that 2,375 hectares of fishponds would be impacted by back-fill (the first stages of a land reclamation process) requiring 205 million cubic metres of fill materials, is an indication of the potential scale of the loss of fishing grounds and disruption of coastal ecosystems.

HB 9191 cites evidence from Pamalakaya, the national federation supporting the rights of small fisherfolk, stating that the aerotropolis project and the law granting the franchise are ‘undemocratic’ due to a lack of consultation, intimidation and militarization faced by about 700 affected fisherfolk families. Their concerns over displacement for the aerotropolis include food insecurity, livelihood and economic losses, loss of housing and privatization of communal areas. In April 2018 an attempt to submit a petition opposing the project and hold a peaceful protest was violently dispersed by local police. In June 2020 some affected residents were pressurized to demolish their own homes. When legislative measures were filed at the House of Representatives affected fisherfolk were not given opportunites to express their opinions about or opposition to the project. Passage of the bill is sought in order to ‘uphold the democratic rights of marginalized sectors particularly for the small fisherfolk sector; for the genuine rehabilitation of Manila Bay and preservation and conservation of the marine and fisheries resources’.

Earthworks for Kediri Airport and an adjacent development

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, on 15th April 2020, officials from the Indonesian government and the East Java province attended a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for a new airport in the Kediri regency. The event marked the official start of construction works that had actually begun three months earlier in January when heavy machines were levelling soil, following several delays that were partly caused by some affected residents refusing to release their land for the project due to unpaid compensation. Fewer than 20 families, in the villages of Bedreck and Bulusari, remained in the area. A villager told The Jakarta Post “If we accept the price, we won’t be able to buy land and build a house of similar value to what we have now”. She said none of the villagers wished to hamper development of the airport, they simply wanted fair compensation. The Kediri administration said that only 0.6 per cent of the 400 hectares of land required to build the airport had not been acquired.

The Kediri Airport project (also referred to as Dhoho Airport) was approved in 2018. The first of the satellite images above shows the airport site area in April 2018, consisting of villages and farmland. The second image shows the same area in June 2020 after earthworks had levelled large areas of land. The third satellite image is from November 2020, by which time earthworks had progressed and impacted upon a larger area, transforming the landscape from verdant green to a pale expanse of crushed and compacted rock. Adjoining this area, extending to the southwest, additional earthworks and construction of roads can be seen. This airport-adjacent development is shown in the fourth and final image in the slideshow, a graphic of the Kediri Master Plan visualising a future tourism and residential complex in this area. Produced by ARKDESIGN Architects and Planners, the ‘MASTER DEVELOPMENT PLAN, PLANTATION RESORT & RESIDENCES’ shows two commercial development areas, a warehouse, utility complex and parking adjoining the airport terminal and cargo buildings. Extending to the southwest is an area allocated for hotels, residences and various tourism facilities including five lakes. Progress of construction of the one of these artificial lakes, near the centre of the planned development, can be seen in the satellite images. The graphic indicates proximity to Mount Wilis, a solitary volcanic massif amidst the surrounding low-lying plains. The route of a future toll road is shown extending from the southeast of the project site, between the airport and the adjacent development.

Controversy over land acquisition for Kediri Airport dates back to 2017, when residents, aware of large-scale land acquisition, questioned whether it was a government or private project. In March 2019 residents of one of the affected villages, Jatirejo, hung dozens of banners along village roads, stating their refusal to accept the prices offered by land buyers for agricultural land, that they said were too low. In October 2019 37 head of family residents of Bedrek Selatan hamlet, Grogol village, had not released their land for the airport project as they had not agreed compensation. The airport plan had caused the price of land around the project site to soar. Land prices had also gone up in Bulusari village where some residents were confused over where to relocate to. Some who had received compensation were experiencing difficulties in finding places to relocate to because of soaring land prices. A shift in the location of the airport runway had required acquisition of additional land, leaving residents with difficulties finding land to relocate to. In January 2020 45 residents of Grogol village rejected land acquisition, protesting over a drop in the compensation offer that would only be sufficient for them to buy land in far away suburbs. Residents’ coordinator said they were being pressured to give up their land for the airport. In February 2020, just two months before the groundbreaking ceremony, some residents had still not agreed to the compensation offers for land acquisition. Ten families were refusing eviction because, while the price of land in their village had dropped drastically, the price of land in new locations where they might settle had risen; they faced the prospect of a huge loss. A resident of Bedrek spoke of repeated visits by land buyers over several months and being pressured to accept the price offered for land.

At the time of writing some residents are still unwilling to leave their homes and suffer the impacts of airport construction works. Several villages – Tarokan, Tiron, Bangkan, Jatirejo and Grogol – have been demolished for the airport project and most of the inhabitants had left. Tugiyem, one of few villagers remaining in Mbandrek Selatan, spoke in the midst of swirling dust and roaring engines of construction vehicles, staring at a pile of dredged rocks. She had lived there since the 1960s and used to work gazing livestock, but her animals were left dying as the construction company had fenced off the land and she could not reach them. A metal fence erected on one side of Grogol, ostensibly to deter trespassing and reduce pollution from construction works, limits residents’ access to their village. One of the main roads connecting Grogol village has been blocked off to aid construction works. This had forced farmers taking their crops to the city to take longer routes and food stalls and shops near the road had to shut down. Within a month of closing access to the road four shops had gone bankrupt. Owners of surviving shops have to rely on custom from their neighbours, including Siti Anggirawan who was forced to close her textile shop. Waiting for customers outside her grocery store, Sri Katun said air quality in Grogol had deteriorated, “When a strong wind blows, construction dust drifts into the house. I often cough.” But she had no thoughts of giving up the land she had bought after years of saving up money, saying, “This house is witness to my ups and downs alongside my husband. We want to die on this land that has been part of our history.”

Earthworks for the airport project consisted of a cut and fill excavation up to 35 metres high. Rivers are being diverted away from the runway via two enormous box culverts, one 570 metres in length and the other 470 metres, made from reinforced concrete. A 3,300 metre runway is being built, to acommodate the largest world’s largest aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350. Construction of the airport proceeds even though plummetting air traffic since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic casts doubts on the feasibility of traffic predictions. And the projections for Kediri Airport, as reported in ACI World Airport Development News, Issue 4 2020, are ambitious. Upon completion of the first phase of construction, scheduled for April 2022, Kediri Airport is projected to handle 1.5 million passengers per annum, eventually rising to more than 10 million annually. A Transport Ministry offical said Kediri Airport would serve domestic flights for tourism, and might also be used for cargo related to possible future agricultural and industrial activity in East Java. Kediri Airport is the first in Indonesia to be fully funded by the private sector. Tobacco company Gudang Garam will spend up to USD732 million to acquire 457 hectares of land and a subsidiary, Surya Dhoho Investama, will oversee development of the airport.

New Research: Airport projects responsible for human rights violations and ecological destruction around the world

Map of Airport-related Injustice and Resistance

Interactive map documents 80 cases of airport-related injustice and resistance

A new interactive map documents cases of airport-related injustice and resistance around the world. All across the globe airport projects are generating serious conflicts and social and environmental impacts: land acquisition, displacement of people, destruction of ecosystems, local pollution and health issues. A new map based on scientific research presents 80 cases as detailed examples of the conflicts generated by airport projects around the world. The research also identified more than 300 cases of airport projects where there is evidence of conflict, that merit further investigation. Research began in 2018 and has been jointly conducted by the EnvJustice project of the Environmental Science and Technology Institute at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) and the Stay Grounded network. 

In many countries, airport planning, construction and expansion continues, in spite of the steep decline in air traffic since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. All aviation expansion, wherever it takes place, contributes to the global problem of climate destruction. Aviation, being fossil fuel dependent and intensive, is a major and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. By documenting a multitude of local struggles against airport projects the Map of Airport-related Injustice and Resistance contributes to a broad and diverse global movement for degrowth of aviation and transition to a just and sustainable mobility system.

Communities around the world struggle against eviction from their homes and farmland for aviation expansion, and to protect forests, wetlands and coastal ecosystems, our research shows. Our interactive feature map, the first of its kind, documents a multitude of airport-related injustices and inspirational resistance movements,” say Sara Mingorría of EnvJustice (ICTA-UAB) and Rose Bridger of Stay Grounded.

Many of the cases documented and analysed involve affected communities opposing  land acquisition for airport projects. In about half of those cases studied there were problems of land dispossession (50%) and displacement (47%). Many communities resisting displacement have suffered human rights violations and state repression: forced evictions, harassment, intimidation, arrests, imprisonment and violence. In around a third of the cases studied there were problems of repression (30%), militarization (29%) and the conflicts reached a high level of intensity (35.5%).

Site clearance for many airport projects also obliterates wildlife habitats and biodiversity. In 48 percent of the cases analyzed, problems of loss of landscape were registered, 41 percent involved deforestation impacts and 32 percent loss of biodiversity. 

“Exploitation of ecosystems and local communities for airport infrastructure must end. The current slump in air traffic provides the opportunity for a just reduction of air traffic. For this, a moratorium on new airports and expansion of existing airports is necessary,” says Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded.

The Map of Airport-Related Injustice and Resistance is a joint project by the EnvJustice (ICTA-UAB) and Stay Grounded. Information has been contributed by organizations, journalists, activists and academics. The research project is co-founded and coordinated by Rose Bridger (Stay Grounded/Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement-GAAM/EnvJustice ICTA-UAB) and Sara Mingorría (Stay Grounded/EnvJustice ICTA-UAB); Yannick Deniau (Envjustice/GeoComunes) and Mira Kapfinger (Stay Grounded) joined the coordination team during the project. The 80 published cases are just the beginning of the mapping project. The research team anticipates that many more conflicts will be documented on the map as the project continues.

EJAtlas is an online database and interactive map documenting and cataloguing environmental conflict around the world. It started in 2011 and counted on the collaboration of hundreds of researchers and organizations. It is now coordinated by the ENVJUSTICE project at ICTA-UAB.

Stay Grounded is a network of more than 160 member organisations from all over the world, among them: NGOs, climate justice groups, indigenous organisations, labour unions and civil initiatives against airport noise and expansion. Together, they fight for climate justice and a fair reduction of aviation.

See the airport injustice cases on the Feature map

For more information see Voices from affected communities and overview of cases.

Aerotropolis: Evictions, Ecocide and Loss of Farmland, part 1

The first section of a two-part video, Aerotropolis: Evictions, Ecocide and Loss of Farmland, highlights damaging impacts of aerotropolis (airport city) projects on people and the environment. Allocation of large sites means that communities face displacement and entire ecosystems can be destroyed.

The video looks at 14 aerotropolis-type projects: New Yogyakarta International Airport, Kertajati Airport and Aerocity, Kualanamu Aerotropolis (Indonesia), 2nd Jeju Airport (South Korea), New Phnom Penh Airport (Cambodia), Long Thanh Aerotropolis (Vietnam), Taoyuan Aerotropolis (Taiwan), KXP AirportCity (Malaysia), Andal Aerotropolis, Bhogapuram Airport and Aerocity, Shivdaspura Aerocity (India), Anambra Airport City (Nigeria), Tamale Airport (Ghana) and Western Sydney Aerotropolis (Australia). For further information see the comprehensive Reference list of source material, including photos and other images.

Land acquisition for proposed aerotropolis in Kedah, Malaysia

A proposed aerotropolis in Malaysia, KXP AirportCity, is one of a number of strategic infrastructure projects under the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) Strategic Development Plan 2021-2025. The project, also referred to as Kedah Aerotropolis, comprises a new airport, Kulim International Airport and Sidam Logistics, Aerospace and Manufacturing Hub (SLAM). The Kedah Aerotropolis page on the NCER website describes an aerotropolis as ‘a metropolitan subregion whose infrastructure, land use and economy are centred on an airport’. It states that the proposed development would take up 9,841 acres (3,983 hectares) of land and that ‘KXP has readily available land that can cater for its expansion for the next 20 to 50 years’. Images in the sildeshow below show: a map of the proposed KXP AirportCity site with associated road development including a new expressway interchange, an aerial image with a digitised boundary of the proposed site, predominantly consisting of farmland, and a Kedah Aerotropolis infographic.

The Kedah state government appointed KXP AirportCity Holdings (KAHSB) to manage and coordinate construction of Kulim Airport. In February 2020, after witnessed a signing ceremony between the CEO of KAHSB and Aeroport de Paris Ingenierie (ADPI), the firm appointed to draw up a development master plan for KXP, Kedah Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) Mukhriz Mahathir invited airport investors, operators and concession holders to invest in the project. He said “The risks of uncertainties regarding land acquisition have been settled” and announced that 3,982 hectares of land had been gazetted to KXP and the Federal Government had approved a “large loan facility” for Kedah to acquire the land, currently belonging to private owners.

But land acquisition for KXP AirportCity met with a protest by villagers concerned they would lose their land and livelihoods. Many Pantai Cicar villagers were concerned that land they had lived on for almost a century could be lost as it was within the area earmarked for construction of the airport city project. On 28th February 2020 about 300 residents of Pantai Cicar village gathered in front of the mosque to protest against land acquisition for the proposed KXP project. The chairman of a village action committee said the earmarked land included more than 200 houses, the mosque that had been built by the community and the cemetary where their ancestors were buried. Implementation of the airport project would impact upon residents whose main livelihoods are from rubber tapping, working on palm plantations and self-employment.

On 28th February 2020 about residents of Pantai Cicar village protested against proposed construction of KXP AirportCity / Kulim Airport in their village, Sinar Hinan, 2nd March 2020

A video of the 28th February protest against taking Pantai Cicar village land for KXP AirportCity shows a large gathering of people. Some of the banners at the protest are written in English and read:

OUR LAND FOR NEXT GENERATION AND NOT FOR NEW AIRPORT, WHY NEED TO CONSTRUCT NEW AIRPORT AT TRADITIONAL VILLAGES

DON’T TAKE OUR BELOVED VILLAGE, AVOID THE KXP, FROM OUR VILLAGE, MOVE THE KXP TO THE PKNK OWN PROPERTY

DON’T DISTURB OUR COMMUNITY WITH NEW AIRPORT PROJECT

OUR LAND FOR NEXT GENERATION AND NOT FOR NEW KXP CITY & AIRPORT

WE LOVE STAY UNITY. PLEASE DON’T DEVIDE US WITH SPLIT SETTLEMENT, WE DO NOT NEED NEW AIRPORT AT THIS MOMENT

WE LOVE STAY UNITY. PLEASE DON’T DEVIDE US WITH SPLIT SETTLEMENT, DEALING WITH BIAS NOT OUR CULTURE!

At the time of the protest preparations were underway to hand over a memorandum containing almost 1,000 residents’ signatures to the state government. In addition to Pantai Cicar several nearby villages were also listed in the proposed land acquisition: Kuala Sedim, Jerung, Kemumbong, Lubuk Kiab, Batu Pekaka and Tanah Licin. The local government and housing committee chairman said the Kedah state government would investigate and review the project’s impact on the environment, saying planning was just beginning and there would be a discussion session.

Since a Kulim airport project was being considered in 2014 there has been an emphasis on potential air cargo operations. In December 2014 Mukhriz said the Kedah state government planned to construct an ‘aerocity’ at the proposed Kulim Airport; an industrial and business area, located on what was at that juncture specified as a 600 hectare airport precinct, would “accommodate all industries related to air transportation”. In March 2015 Mukhriz said Kulim Airport would initially operate as a cargo facility. In November 2020 KXP was described as ‘an airport city that will be an integral part of the Kedah Aerotropolis economic region driven by intermodal connectivity focussing on cargo, logistics and industrial development’. It is envisaged that Kulim Airport’s cargo facilities and the development of the aerotropolis will be complemented by the Sidam Logistics, Aerospace and Manufacturing Hub (SLAM).

Allegations of land encroachment for Anambra Airport City/Cargo Airport

A large area of farmland was cleared for an airport city/cargo airport in Anambra, southern Nigeria and neighbouring communities complain of expansion of the project site and land grabbing. Two satellite images of the site show major changes over a four year period. The image on the left shows the airport site in January 2016, before announcement of the project, containing many plots of farmland. On the right, an image dated February 2020 shows a large expanse of farmland has been cleared for Anambra Airport City runway and other facilities.

Slide bar in the middle of the two images to see changes to landscape from clearing farmland for airport construction

The Anambra Airport City project, also also referred to as Umueri Airport City and Anambra Cargo Airport, was launched in April 2017. A two-runway airport with an airport hotel, business park, international convention centre along with aviation fuel and aircraft maintenance facilities, costing more than USD2.2 billion was announced by the governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano. Two years later a large expanse of land had been cleared but little work had been done on the site. Igbo Renaissance Council stated that the employment for local people that was promised had not materialized and residents whose homes had been razed to make way for the project had been left ‘dejected and depressed with no sign of hope on the horizon’.

In July 2020 – in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with airports that had been closed since March only slowly recommencing operations – residents of several communities around the Anmbra Airport site complained that government agents responsible for executing the project were encroaching beyond the boundary of the land area that had been allocated. People of Umuopo, Umuinu and Enuagu kindreds in Umueri, north of the airport site, stated that they were being dispossessed of their remaining portions of land and had been “thrown into pains and agony“. They said the government was deliberately making them refugees on their own land. Community investigation revealed that unscupulous individuals were annexing their land and they called on the state government for help, stating:

“By extending their hand into other portions of our land, what does the government expect us to survive with as we are just farmers? We have written, we have cried, we have pleaded and we have engaged in all forms of diplomacy to demand that government restricts itself to the agreed portion of land, all to no avail.”

It was also reported that residents of Ifite Nteje, a community to the south of the Anambra airport project, were suffering from violence meted out by youths who had seized communal land. A band of youths had ‘unleashed mayhem on the community, sacking villagers from their homes’. People opposing sale of their communal land had been beaten with many being injured and homes had been burned down. Members of the community said the crisis had ‘brought hunger and famine as they no longer have land for farming’ and ‘they dared no go to their farms anymore for fear of being maimed, while the women among them were raped’. One woman, a widow, said their formerly peaceful community had been taken over by violence and she was one of many women who no longer had land to farm that they needed to feed their families.

On 14th October 2020 it was reported that youths from the Umueri community had dispersed bulldozers that had been had been stationed, without notice, to demolish farmland and privately owned agro-investments. A farm owner maintained his affected farm was not within the airport area and appealed for intervention from the state government to halt trespassing. On 19th October residents of Umuopo, Enuagu and Umuinu protested against alleged encroachment on their land, lighting a bonfire and blocking the road to the airport site. Some of the placards read: “We can’t be refugees and IDPs in our own land”; “We’re farmers why collect our land to build housing estate”; “Anambra State government go to the portion of land given for the airport.” The protestors described the government’s action as a deliberate attempt to impoverish the people, who were predominantly farmers. The Chairman of Ifite Umueri Community claimed that they had given the government 729.60 hectares for the airport project, but over 1,901 hectares had been taken.

Obiano, Anambra State governor, continues to support the Anambra Airport project, saying it will have the second longest runway in Nigeria after Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos. Then on 4th November the Anambra State Government set aside Naira 5.8 billion (USD15.2 million) for completion of the Anambra Airport project during the presentation of the 2021 Appropriation Bill.

cluster of airport-related conflicts in Nigeria

Information about Anambra Airport City/Cargo Airport and its impact on neighbouring communities is a new addition to a cluster of similar airport projects in southern Nigeria, all of which are documented and analyzed in the Map of Airport-Related Injustice and Resistance, a partnership project coordinated by EnvJustice and the Stay Grounded Network. Land has been cleared to make way for proposed cargo airports in Ekiti, Ogun, Obudu and Ebonyi. In all four cases bulldozers arrived without warning and began destroying people’s farmland and crops to make way for airport construction.

In the case of the proposed Ekiti airport bulldozers ripped down trees and cleared farmland before even consulting affected farm owners from five villages. Farmers succeeded in stalling the project and secured a major court victory with all their claims against the state government being vindicated. Hundreds of farmers protested against land-grabbing for a cargo airport in Ogun State. In 2018 it was reported that 5,000 farmers were affected by the project and some had been intimidated and their crops bulldozed. Earth moving equipment began destroying farmland and felling trees in three Obudu villages where land has been earmarked for an airport, flouting project planning and land procedures. Allocation of a large land area for a proposed cargo airport in Ebonyi cargo triggered protests by people facing displacement from their ancestral homes and farmland. Bulldozers began clearing land and destroying crops and landowners raised alarm over imminent hunger in their community.

Video – Aerotropolis: Early Examples

A new video explores early examples of aerotropolis developments, focusing on two key characteristics: airport land ownership or real estate, and non-aeronautical revenue generated from facilities on this land.

Several airports with associated aerotropolis-type development around the world are mentioned. Incheon Airport (South Korea) has a comprehensive range of facilities and a consistently high level of non-aeronautical revenue. In Europe airport-city style development is well established at Schiphol, Frankfurt and Munich and Athens airports. Prominent examples in Asia include Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur Airport. In Australia Perth Airport generates non-aeronautical revenue from retail and other facilities. In North America, phased development is underway on land owned by Edmonton Airport in Canada and Dallas/Forth Worth, Indianapolis and Denver airports in the US. All these aerotropolis developments could be outsized by China’s Zhengzhou Airport Economic Zone (ZAEZ). See references for source material including images. Please consider subscribing to the GAAM YouTube channel for notification when future videos are published.

Webinar – Proposed Bulacan Airport threatens Manila Bay

News website Rappler and Oceana Philippines, an organisation working to protect the oceans, hosted an informative webinar about the threats posed to the people and environment of Manila Bay by the proposed Bulacan Airport, an aerotropolis.

Land reclamation for the Bulacan airport site, creating new land from the ocean, a process also referred to as dump and fill, would destroy fishing grounds. An astonishing 205 million cubic metres of fill material is required, a volume large enough to fill 20 million dump trucks, and it is not even known where this material would be sourced from. Fisherfolk face displacement and loss of their livelihoods and the food security of the region is at risk. Loss of biodiverse ecosystems including wetlands and mangroves threaten to devastate marine life and habitats that support many wild bird species. Local communities’ vulnerability to geohazards – typhoons, storm surges, earthquakes and rising sea levels caused by climate change – would be severely exacerbated.

A strong legal framework, constitutional provisions and national laws, protecting Manila Bay and the rights of subsistence fishing communties, and prohibiting ecologically devastating projects such as Bulacan Airport, already exists. Government agencies need to adhere to their mandates to protect coastal communities and natural life-support systems.

Webinar speakers:

  • Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President of Oceana Philippines
  • Narod Eco, researcher at Marine Science Institute-University of the Philippines-Diliman
  • Francis Cortez, a spokesperson of Bulacan Ecumenical Forum

Amazon expands e-commerce footprint

Amazon’s expansion of its e-commerce logistics network, giant distribution and fulfilment centres, continues during the Covid-19 pandemic. Several new facilities are airport-adjacent and many are supported by tax breaks.

Online buying has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic. Confinement of American citizens to their homes under ‘shelter in place’ orders and closure of shops selling non-essential goods have been a gift to e-commerce firms with extensive home delivery networks. E-commerce spending in the US surged by 78% in May, with Amazon, Target and Walmart reporting soaring online sales. Amazon, expanding its market share to nearly 40% of all online sales, has been the biggest winner. The first week of July 2020 marked the twelfth straight week of over 60% year-on-year growth of customer spending on Amazon. And Amazon is consolidating its distribution dominance by adding to its existing large facilities at airports, strategically located in proximity to fulfilment centres (warehouses for receiving and processing orders). A fleet of trucks, estimated to number over 20,000, delivers products and packages to urban centres.

Amazon Prime Air (32247381627)

Amazon Prime Air Boeing 767-300F, Nathan Coats from Seattle, WA, United States of America / CC BY-SA

Amazon’s surface shipping network is supported by Amazon Air (formerly known as Amazon Prime Air), a wholly owned subsidiary of the retail, e-commerce and logistics giant. Growth of Amazon Air is accelerating in 2020 and is a cornerstone of Amazon’s drive to challenge the dominance of FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service (USPS) in the overnight and 2-day home delivery market. Amazon’s fleet of cargo aircraft is anticipated to grow from 42 at present to 70 by 2021. A fleet of this size would place Amazon Air, its route network almost entirely within North America, among the world’s largest cargo airlines.

Amazon ‘super hub’ at CVG

A massive new air hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG) appears to be the lynchpin of Amazon’s expansion of domestic deliveries across the US. The new facility is expected to handle 200 flights per day, becoming Amazon Air’s ‘super hub’. Construction has caused problems for neighbouring homes and business premises. For more than a year vibrations from blasting works during construction caused damage to buildings along with uncontrolled dust and noise. Two affected residents filed a complaint seeking to allow residents living within 1 mile of the site to file a class action lawsuit against the contractors building the air hub. A construction worker, Loren Shoemake, was killed in a accident on the site. $40 million in state and local tax incentives and an additional $5 million from CVG Airport were given to Amazon to develop the air cargo hub at CVG and the State of Kentucky built a new interchange on the Interstate-275 highway to serve the development.

Nearly $3 billion tax breaks and counting

Amazon’s growth is partly due to its agressive stragetegy for getting tax breaks. Amazon Tracker, created by Good Jobs First, a non-profit organisation focusing on government and corporate accountability, tallies tax breaks and other subsidies given to Amazon for warehouses, other distribution network facilities and data centers. At the time of writing the total amounted to $2,982,000,000. Amazon facilites at airports benefitting from subsidies include hubs at Lakeland in Polk County, Florida and Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma, and distribution centres at Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina and Romulus, Michigan.

Charlotte City Council approved $13.4 million in incentives to Amazon to bring an Amazon facility to Charlotte Douglas Airport. Opening in September 2019, the distribution centre has a footprint of 855,000 square feet, about the size of 15 football pitches. An identically sized Amazon fulfilment centre, on 84 acres of land in Romulus, north of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, was granted a $5 million state subsidy from the Michigan Strategic Fund in 2017. In addition $13.5 million of Michigan tax dollars was allocated for infrastructure around the site. The director of the Detroit Regional Aerotropolis Development Corporation said Amazon would attract other transportation and logistics firms to vacant property near the airport. Efforts to develop 6,000 acres of land within Detroit Regional Aerotropolis began in 2007 but never took off.

During 2020 Amazon has continued expansion of its surface shipping network, constructing and leasing massive warehouses across the US, in several instances supported by tax breaks and state funding for associated road infrastructure. In June 2020 the town of North Andover, Massachusetts, approved an estimated $27 million in tax incentives to Amazon for a massive 3.8 million square feet, five-storey high distribution centre. A tax increment finance agreement will reduce Amazon’s property tax bill for a decade. The amount is almost equal to the combined total of tax breaks previously granted to the company for other facilities in Massachusetts in the past few years: $16 million in state and local tax incentives for a large distribution centre in Fall River, an estimated $3.5 million for a sortation centre in Stoughton and up to $10 million in property tax breaks from the city of Boston for new offices in the Seaport District. The 110 acre North Andover site, formerly an industrial complex, is adjacent to Lawrence Municipal Airport with easy access to two interstate highways, the I-495 partial beltway around Boston and the I-93 arterial road extending from southwest Boston to St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Site of new Amazon distribution centre in North Andover, Massachusetts

Over in Ohio construction of an Amazon fulfilment centre with a 2.8 million square feet footprint in Rossford, Wood County, was nearing completion by the end of June 2020. Interior works on robotics and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) were underway and the scope of the project had expanded; 300 parking spaces for tractor-trailers in initial designs had increased to 719. Also in Ohio, state funding for a road project in Etna Township, Licking County is related to an Amazon building. One of the biggest speculative developments in the country, the footprint is reportedly 1.2 million square feet. The 15th June 2020 meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board approved release of $800,000 in support of the Amazon project, to extend a road “needed for basic access to the facility.” The 85 jobs that will be created by the road project come at the expense of a hefty subsidy: $9,411 per job. State largesse for Amazon was the polar opposite of swingeing $850,000 cuts to the nearby Southwest Licking School District, part of statewide budget cuts announced in May.

Map showing site of Amazon speculative building in Etna Township and road funded by Ohio Controlling Board. Source: Newark Advocate, 11th June 2020

More Amazon facilities in California

Imminent opening of a large new Amazon distribution centre at Meadows Field Airport in Kern County, California – a four floor facility with a footprint measuring 640,000 square feet – was announced in June 2020. Kern County agreed to give Amazon $3 million in local tax rebates in 2018, a subsidy package that would award the company annual refunds of approximately $275,000 for more than a decade.

Speculation that Amazon is developing a western hub at San Bernardino Airport was confimed on 8th May 2020 when the tenant of a major new air cargo facility was announced and the project named Amazon Air Regional Air Hub. Up until this point the tenant of what had previously been called the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility had not been disclosed. Amazon has already built 14 giant fulfilment centres in the San Bernardino and Riverside communities, known as the Inland Empire and one of the biggest hubs for goods warehousing and distribution in the US. High levels of air pollution from logistics traffic is compounded by geography; the area sits in a valley between two mountain ranges, forming a bowl trapping pollutants and emissions drift inland from Los Angeles. Several studies link poor air quality to health problems.

Eastgate Air Cargo Facility site plan
Eastgate Air Cargo Facility site plan showing distribution and office building, aircraft parking areas, dock doors, parking and operational support areas. Source: Environmental Science Associates, Inc., July 2019

More air cargo flights at San Bernardino Airport will bring more trucks, more traffic and more pollution. Specifications for the air cargo facility include two new driveways into the site with two new bridges crossing the City Creek Bypass Channel. Hundreds of local residents attended meetings to raise concerns over pollution from air cargo flights at the new San Bernardino Airport facililty and the projected 1,568 diesel-fuelled truck trips per day. A coalition of residents, community organisations, labour unions and churches united under the San Bernardino Airport Communities banner to push for good jobs during construction and operation and protection from air pollution, noise and road traffic impacts.

Two local community groups in Sonoma, Northern California, called for public input on a proposal to lease a vast warehouse to Amazon for its North Bay delivery hub project, questioning whether the turning the space into a major regional delivery centre violates the terms of the permit for the building. The property is zoned for light manufacturing, research and development, warehousing and distribution or retail/office use. Norman Gilroy of Mobilize Sonoma and Kathy Pons of the Valley of the Moon Alliance raised concerns that operation of a major regional delivery centre will increase intensity of the building’s use, without planning review or public comment, enquiring about the number of vehicles that will enter and leave the building on a typical day. The facility is anticipated to open in the autumn. In June 2020 neighbouring residents, concerned when they noticed a large crane at work, alerted county officials. An inspector verified that no permit for the work existed, leading to issuance of a ‘stop work’ order and a fine.

Houston, Florida, New York, Connecticut

Construction of a massive Amazon warehouse just southwest of Houston began in June 2020. The new fulfilment centre, on a 93.5 acre site, will have an 855,000 square feet footprint. Amazon built its first facility in the area, in north Houston, a few years ago, receiving a 10-year tax break from Harris County that was expected to save the company $180,000 annually. Elsewhere in the Houston area Amazon also has a fulfilment centre in Brookshire and a sorting facility near George Bush Intercontinental Airport. In central Florida the aforementioned Amazon air cargo hub at Lakeland Linder Airport is taking shape, a 300,000 square foot, three storey building taking up 47 acres of airport land. Then in July Amazon secured approval to build what might be its largest distribution facility in South Florida, near the Homestead Air Reserve Base in south Miami-Dade.

Site of new Amazon distribution centre in Miami-Dade

In New York, work on Amazon’s 450,000 square foot last mile facility in Bloomfield, Staten Island was deemed essential construction during the Covid-19 pandemic. Amazon already has a facility in Staten Island, an 855,000 square foot distribution centre opened on the West Shore in 2017. On 23rd June Amazon inked an agreement to lease space for an even bigger facility in Queens. A disused containerboard factory will be demolished and replaced with a massive 1 million square foot four-storey warehouse which will be the largest in New York City. Simultaneously, steel girders were being erected for an Amazon distribution centre in Clay, a town in Onondaga, a northern suburb of Syracuse. Upon completion, scheduled for autumn 2021 in time for Christmas deliveries, the five-storey, 3.8 million square foot facility will, in term of floorspace, be one of the largest in the world. Jobs will be created, but mainly for robots. Employing just 1,000 people it will be one of Amazon’s most automated sites. Little remains of the golf course that previously occupied the site, for 73 years. Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency approved $70.8 million in tax breaks for this Amazon distribution centre project.

On 26th May 2020 a second Amazon warehouse/distribution centre in Windsor, Connecticut received local land use approvals. The 147 acre hub will be built on former tobacco farmland. Amazon, aiming to start construction in the third quarter of 2020, sought multi-year tax breaks for the development. Windsor’s economic development commission obliged, recommending approval of a seven-year 100% cent tax abatement. The site is on the Bradley Airport Connector highway connecting Bradley Airport with Interstate-91, the major north–south transportation corridor in central Connecticut.

Map showing site of new Amazon warehouse in Windsor, Connecticut, next to Bradley International Airport and connector highway

The tax breaks for the new Amazon facility, approved by Windor town council, were more modest than had been suggested: a three-year 50% abatement of real property taxes plus a 50% reduction in building permit fees. Amazon is projected to net savings of $8.78 million from the deal. Good Jobs First expressed its opinion on granting tax incentives to Amazon in a tweet:

Chicago distribution hubs reawaken 3rd airport plans

On 22nd June Amazon decided to open two distribution centres in the south suburbs of Chicago, in Matteson and Markham, each measuring 855,000 square feet and anticipated to employ 1,000 people. The low employment density ratio is partly due to automation; the facilities will use ‘the newest generation of Amazon robots’ to pick, pack and ship goods. Several officials said Amazons’ decision to locate the warehouses in Matteson and Markham strengthened the case for proceeding with the long proposed south suburban airport in Peotone, as an air cargo hub. The new Amazon facilities are within a few miles of the airport project site. Government funding for road construction linking to the airport site is already allocated: more than $205 million from the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan for construction of Interstate 57 (I-57) related to the airport property. David Greising, president and Chief Executive of the Better Government Association, wrote that area would be better served with road and bridge upgrades serving rail and trucking routes than by ‘sinking $205 million into an “airport to nowhere” off I-57 toward Peotone’.

A third major Chicago region airport, on farmland in Peotone, has been proposed since the 1980s. Illinois Department of Transportation started buying land surrounding the site in 2002, amassing 5,000 acres of the proposed 6,000 acres for the ‘inaugural footprint’ for the airport. Farmer Judy Ogalla, who owns land in the proposed airport site where she grows corn, soybeans and wheat, said “We have great soil…It doesn’t have any sense to pave over that when we have an airport in Gary.” Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said construction of the airport would destroy 1,200 acres of flood plains and 180 acres of wetlands. Opposition to Peotone airport has been sustained by Shut This Airport Nightmare Down, a group composed of environmentalists, farmers and other residents.

Amazon’s cloud cluster, data centres housed in another set of ubiquitous grey warehouses, casts an ever heavier earthly footprint. Already Amazon operates more than 50 data centres in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia, the largest single concentration of corporate data centres on the planet. Amazon seeks to expand this by building a massive, 2.5 million square feet, data centre campus south of Dulles Airport. This is one of five potential Amazon data centre projects being developed as the cloud cluster becomes a ‘cloud corridor’. Amazon and its development partners have been land banking, buying parcels of land for future development, adjcacent to Dulles Airport. Some Loudoun County community members are critical of data centre design and location. Over 100 data centres lining major roads dominate the visual landscape and lead to tensions over noise in residential neighbourhoods.