Islip Town officials have no records of fire inspections done at MacArthur Airport since 1999 and now believe town fire marshals were told by the administration of previous Supervisor Pete McGowan not to inspect the new Southwest Airlines terminal, town officials said yesterday.
Throughout yesterday, town officials tried to determine whether the airport had been inspected, as required by state law, but could not produce records to prove it. They said, however, that because building approvals - such as certificates of occupancy - had been issued for parts of the airport, fire inspections must have been done.
In a new development, several town officials told Newsday they believe town fire inspections may not have been done at the terminal because of direction by the McGowan administration.
These revelations come as the Suffolk County district attorney is investigating serious fire hazards at the Ronkonkoma airport, a regional hub that last year had more than 1 million people passing through it. Newsday has previously reported fire hazards at the airport, dangerous cracks in the apron outside the new terminal and possible funding irregularities.
Spokesmen for the district attorney's office and Southwest declined to comment for this story.
Meanwhile, the New York Department of State, which oversees fire prevention, began a review yesterday to determine what fire inspections had been done. Department spokesman Lawrence Sombke said such a review was highly unusual.
Under state law, a fire inspection must be conducted annually of all places of public assembly. In addition, municipalities are required to maintain fire records.
Islip Supervisor Eric Hofmeister, responding to requests from Newsday under the state Freedom of Information Law, said yesterday that the town could not locate fire-inspection records.
Moreover, Hofmeister said town fire inspectors were told not to conduct inspections of the Southwest terminal - part of which opened in 2004 - at the airport, but said he did not know why. He declined to comment further.
Instead, the town hired an engineering firm, Hauppauge-based Cashin Associates, to do the inspections. In December, the Suffolk district attorney subpoenaed Cashin's airport records. Cashin officials did not return calls.
Since Newsday reported the airport fire hazards last month, the town has sent fire marshals to investigate and is awaiting results of their report, Hofmeister said. While town officials have said the airport is safe, Hofmeister declined to comment on that issue yesterday.
McGowan could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Ray Perini, also said he could not reach McGowan, who is to be released from jail today after serving nearly two months of a 90-day sentence for taking campaign kickbacks.
The new airport developments are "mind-boggling," said Phil Nolan, Democratic candidate for town supervisor. "This is turning out to be worse than anyone imagined."
However, both he and a Republican candidate for supervisor, Legis. Thomas Barraga (West Islip), expressed skepticism that anyone would order a fire marshal not to inspect the airport.
"To cover their own ineptness at the airport, they [town officials] could be using McGowan as a scapegoat," Barraga said.
Last month, the DA's detectives found disconnected sprinklers above the main entrance; natural-gas pipes located directly below air intake manifolds; and sprinklers, rather than a chemical fire-suppression system, in the main electrical control room.
The airport, which is owned and operated by Islip Town, has been undergoing an $82 million expansion to create eight gates for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. Four gates in a new terminal building opened in August 2004, and four additional gates are to open next week.
The town was warned more than two years ago, but Islip officials did not address the problems until they became public.
Steven Rizzo of Islip Terrace, pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, official misconduct and offering a false instrument for filing.
Construction will be re-examined to ensure work meets code in wake of report citing fire hazards.
The hazards at Long Island McArthur Airport could cause an explosion or allow natural gas to be drawn into the terminal.