Slicing (and dicing) neighborhoods out of noise abatement funding

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July 11, 2013
By: Steve Watson
Steve Watson

South Minneapolis residents have heard this familiar response to concerns over airport noise: “Well, we had to draw the line somewhere  (Metropolitan Airports Commission).”

For 34 households between major flight paths, this response is, without argument, ridiculous. The MAC, with support from the City of Minneapolis, recently set new boundaries for noise abatement funding, but etched out a square that cuts off two adjacent blocks (and 34 homes) from funding. The MAC, relying on high-tech noise monitors, computer-generated jet noise maps, and a discounting of the human ear, determined that two adjacent blocks — under both flight paths — did not have a noise problem. Yet neighbors on all four sides of this “exclusion zone” are in the money for noise reduction.

Between Garfield and Grand, and between 48th Street and 49th Street, the two excluded blocks of homes regularly experience the noise double whammy: from both north and south, the roar of parallel inbound jets. But oddly, on all sides and even extending 10 city blocks west to Lake Harriet, the MAC and Minneapolis are serving up funds to mitigate jet noise.

This is an inequitable noise problem for 34 homeowners, but also a neighborhood public relations problem. On each of the four sides of the MAC’s Garfield-Grand exclusion zone, homeowners can toss a ball across the street to their more fortunate neighbors.  And soon, at the annual block party on Garfield Avenue, neighbors on the west side will share food and conversation with the neighbors on the east side — who live in the exclusion zone. It will be uncomfortable for the eastsiders to learn that neighbors further from the airport are slated for noise reduction.

Neighbors on both sides of Garfield and in surrounding South Minneapolis

neighborhoods need to throw this gerrymandered mess back to MAC and the city to fix. If by 2020, 46,000 more flights are moving in and out of our urban airport, the current monitoring system is laughable in its attempts to predict the future of noise pollution.

Even with the current nine monitors in South Minneapolis, the MAC has failed to accurately measure the actual effects of noise: no data exists on jet noise duration, recurring patterns of daily jet noise, and the site-specific frequency of noise disruption.

For the Garfield-Grand exclusion zone and surrounds, I would personalize the effects of noise overload: How many decibels of jet noise does it take to wake a granddaughter?  How many decibels will wake an ailing adult at 11:30 p.m. (not an uncommon arrival time), especially when windows remain open in summer? The MAC acknowledges none of these quality-of-life deficiencies in excluding 34 homeowners under the flight path.

In advancing the theme of “ridiculous,” it should be noted that the MAC positioned no noise monitor within a quarter mile of the Garfield-Grand exclusion zone. No site measurements have been taken, yet the MAC stands by its Garfield — Grand computer-generated exclusion zone.

To provide short term relief for 34 households, I offer the commission a proposal. While this may reflect the residual effects of life between the flight paths, it is not a totally ridiculous idea: “Should the laws of trespass be extended in Minneapolis to include frequent and excessive noise trespass over individual homes?” If the MAC cannot provide noise mitigation funding due 34 homeowners, then each homeowner should be permitted to collect a small toll ($5 fee) from each jet for use of “homeowner airspace.” This would quickly provide the funds for noise mitigation in the exclusion zone.

Beyond evidence here of the ridiculous, I hope that Minneapolis and the MAC will reconfigure a noise reduction model — expansive and inclusive rather than shortsighted and exclusive — that addresses serious quality of life issues in all of the affected communities.

Steve Watson
Tangletown