Airport activist group ROAR goes on ‘hiatus’

It helped revolutionize Minneapolis politics by galvanizing the affluent, noise-afflicted residents of Southwest, boosting the political careers of future Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward).

Now it's a lion in winter, its snarl sometimes softer than the skies it wants to quiet. It's ROAR (Residents Opposed to Airport Racket), and it's getting harder and harder to hear the group make noise.

Founder and Chairperson Sara Strzok said, "ROAR has not ceased to exist so much as gone into hiatus. We don't want to say that the organization has shut down forever, but because our volunteer base was people who were so politically involved, we're finding that, this year, everybody is working on somebody's campaign."

ROAR has been known for flamboyant media campaigns, such as famed 2001 pajama party at the airport to protest loud night flights. But it also worked doggedly to organize sympathizers, monitor Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) doings and send out alerts via the Internet.

Said Strzok, "Everybody on the [ROAR] board talked and we agreed that we can't keep this effort up. At least not at this time. Hopefully, at the beginning of next year, we're going to call around again and say, 'Has everybody recovered from the last election? How do you want to proceed?'"

Rybak agreed that electoral success has affected the citizens' group. "It's time for a new generation of citizens to step forward and help us fight this battle."

MAC Commissioner Dan Boivin, a Rybak appointee, has his own theory of how ROAR has been quieted: "The most active people in ROAR were the people in the 65-plus DNL [day-night noise level]. Their homes got taken care of. Everybody's got busy lives, you know, it's hard to continue that commitment. Hopefully, we can keep trying to energize other people."

Boivin says new energy must come from the Bloomington, Mendota Heights and Eagan areas. "Their lives are going to change drastically when the new [north-south] runway opens [in late 2005]. Those people have no clue -- and they are going to come out of the woodwork when all of a sudden up to 25 percent of the flights are taking off over their neck of the woods."

Strzok said she hopes to be a part of a revived group. "I suspect that there's going to be a lot of people in the south metro who are suddenly very interested in noise mitigation [saying] 'Oh, gee, I didn't think that 60 DNL was that loud until it was going over my house.'"

Jim Spensley, chairperson of SMACC (South Metro Airport Action Council), another airport noise advocacy group, warns against premature notices of ROAR's demise.

"Don't write ROAR off too soon," he said. "We're going to help them maintain the Web site, and you never can tell. If MAC keeps behaving in the irresponsible way they are, people will get remotivated."

The two groups share the www.quiettheskies.org site.