NEW YORK — A $65 million state-of-the-art Kennedy Airport animal facility is in danger of closing because thousands of horses, birds and other creatures are being trucked to the federal government’s quarantine barns 2½ hours away, its owner says in a lawsuit.

ARK opened a year ago to great fanfare, billed as “the world’s only animal terminal and the first full-service quarantine facility” for the import and export of horses, pets, zoo animals and livestock, according to The New York Times.

John J. Cuticelli Jr. says in the $426 million lawsuit that his lease gives ARK “exclusive rights” to handle animals flown in from overseas but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which solicited his business and became his landlord, is not enforcing that.

ARK signed the lease in 2014. The project was financed through loans and tax-free bonds. There were security revisions, government red tape and delays; costs rose.

In 2015, the Port Authority signed a 20-year lease for a 40-year-old U.S. Department of Agriculture operation at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, 90 miles from Kennedy.

Paradise 4 Paws, a dog and cat resort with 150 suites inside ARK, has yet to open.

The Port Authority said Thursday it’s working to resolve the legal issues.

“Prior animal services at JFK were not centralized, were not in first-class facilities and in many cases fell far below minimum appropriate standards,” the agency said. “The ARK contract was tailored to enable the private contractor to make the necessary investment to build and operate a world-class facility. The limited exclusivity provision enables the private veterinary clinic to provide the first-class facility and services that JFK requested.”

A USDA spokeswoman, Joelle Hayden, told The Times that her agency “does not mandate use of any one import quarantine facility, airline or animal handling service. We support the use of all approved entities and services.”

“I would never ship horses halfway across the world on a long flight and then put them on a trailer for 2½ hours to quarantine,” said Alison McGowan, who runs Ternary Performance Horses on Long Island. “… I’d rather have a state-of-the-art facility providing the best care.”

Some critics say it’s too expensive.

The New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct and Belmont Park near Kennedy Airport, has built its own USDA-approved barns, enabling horses to compete right after they leave quarantine.

In December, Dora J. Delgado, a senior vice president of racing and nominations for the Breeders Cup, sent a letter to the USDA expressing concerns about the Port Authority’s plans to require “international equine athletes” to use ARK rather than a USDA-approved quarantine barn.


Information from: The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com