Eagan joins airport suit; will Richfield follow?

The city of Minneapolis has inched closer to filing a lawsuit to try to force the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to provide noise insulation to residents' homes near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, including hundreds in Southwest.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city would file the suit against the airports commission and the Federal Aviation Administration in a matter of weeks, once Richfield decides about becoming a litigant.

The Eagan City Council voted unanimously on March 15 to participate in the suit.

One incentive for the suburbs to jump in may be how Minneapolis shares legal costs.

Richfield City Attorney Corrine Thomson said she's been in negotiations with Minneapolis city attorneys. Those talks included a provision that Minneapolis would bear all litigation costs above $300,000, she said. Thomson said no agreements have been reached and that the Richfield Council will consider joining the suit at its March 29 meeting.

Rybak said the city has retained the Denver law firm of Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell. He would not comment on the specifics of the agreement yet.

In Eagan, City Councilmember Mike Maguire said the city of 66,000 has about 500 homes within the 60-64 DNL (day-night level of measured noise) contour. Those homeowners have been offered air conditioning packages as part of the MAC's $47 million mitigation proposal. Homeowners are required pay for part of the air conditioning: from 10 percent to 50 percent, depending on the amount of noise to which they're subjected.

Maguire said Eagan has told MAC officials that 80 percent of affected residents already have air conditioning. He says airport commissioners simply aren't hearing that their offer isn't good enough.

"What we have here is a failure to communicate," Maguire said.

MAC Executive Director Jeff Hamiel said the airports commission has spent over $340 million on noise mitigation efforts in the area with a 65 DNL or higher rating, "which is more on a per-capita basis than anybody has done anywhere in the country."

Noise activists contend that in 1996, when expansion of the airport was approved, the MAC committed to spending anywhere from $150 million to $300 million more to reduce racket in the homes in the 60-64 DNL.

Hamiel said the MAC did commit to provide some acoustical mitigation to homes in the affected area, but "but we never specified what it was."

He explained, "The reason we did not do that is because we did not know what the noise levels would be at that time and, furthermore, we did not know what would be required to properly mitigate the noise."

Said Rybak of the suit, "This won't be a slam-dunk. But when citizens of Minneapolis are made a promise and someone's not going to follow through, then we're going to stand with them."