Battle over projections determines which jet-noise sufferers may get help
For the first time, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) has published a map projecting a new sound contour that may mean Southwest residents will get more noise insulation. However, area antinoise activists say the projection underestimates how many homes will need sound-deadening enhancements such as central air conditioning and insulation.
The map, released Feb. 4, shows how noise levels around the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are projected to change by 2007. It also establishes a new sound contour for homes falling in the so-called 60-64 DNL area. ("DNL" is a day-night average sound level.) Homeowners in that contour are eligible for mitigation steps yet to be determined by the MAC.
The new map won’t affect homes in the current 65-and-up DNL contours — all of which will have received noise-mitigation treatments by year’s end, said MAC officials.
The map, generated by a Federal Aviation Administration-mandated computer model, shows noise diminishing north of the airport and shifting southward to Bloomington and Eagan.
Activists argue that because the map uses 2002 data — a year they say was quieter in 9/11’s aftermath — it favors airlines tired of paying for noise-mitigation. They also say that the MAC relies too heavily on rosy projections that quieter planes will be used more often. MAC officials counter that their map predicts future noise as accurately as possible.
According to the 2002 figures used by the MAC to make its 2007 projections, some residents of Lynnhurst, CARAG, ECCO, Lyndale, Kenny, Armatage and Windom neighborhoods will see their noise diminish. They’ll also see their chances at getting noise-mitigation treatments vanish, as the 60-64 DNL contour shrinks from 2002 to 2007, placing some of those homes just outside the mitigation-eligible lines.
(You can check where your home lies on the proposed map by going to www.macnoise.com/contourfind/index.jsp and typing in your address.)
Feel the noise
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the sound contour map could be misleading.
"They may leave the wrong impression that it’s getting substantially quieter, when it’s not," he said.
Rybak said that noise has been reduced by audible levels — three decibels or greater — only two months in the past four years at over half of the city’s noise-monitoring stations.
Merland Otto, the city’s principal planner specializing in airport noise, said airport noise overall in Minneapolis has decreased slightly. "Surprisingly, it is dropping a little bit," Otto said "But surprisingly, it’s not dropping as much as I thought would happen, given the significant changes that have occurred, with the retirement of the 727s" by Northwest Airlines (NWA) and others.
"There may be something on the order of a one or one-and-a-half decibel reduction, which really isn’t noticeable," Otto said. "The trend is going down, which is much better than it going up, but it’s at such a low rate of decrease that it’s virtually imperceptible."
Noise projections ‘n’ rejections
MAC Executive Director Jeff Hamiel said, "We think our projections are pretty comfortably reliable. We won’t know until 2007 what the real contours are, but then, you never do."
Tangletown resident and ROAR (Residents Opposed to Airport Racket) leader Sara Strzok said the map is what she expected from the MAC but not what she had hoped for. "They’re really underestimating the amount of projected noise for South Minneapolis," she said. "From the talks I’ve had with MAC folks about the information that went into that map, they were kind of counting, more than I think is realistic, on newer, quieter planes being put into the mix."
City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward), a longtime airport activist, agreed. He said the MAC counts too heavily on NWA reducing hush-kitted planes — those fitted retroactively with noise-reducing equipment — in favor of newer, quieter planes.
MAC "has assumed a constant decrease in the number of hush-kitted aircraft based on the decrease experienced in the last few years when Northwest was phasing out 727s. Well, to do that, they’d have to phase out DC-9s as quickly as they phased out their 727s, and I don’t think they’re going to do that since they just refurbished them all," Benson said.
NWA spokesperson Mary Stanik wrote in an e-mail that the airline is declining all interviews about the sound contour map. She also declined to describe the airline’s plans for its hush-kitted DC-9s flying in and out of Minneapolis.
Hamiel said NWA is going through a process known as "right-sizing" — substituting large, partially filled DC-9s, which typically seat around 90 passengers, for smaller, regional jets filled much closer to their 50-passenger capacity.
"The regional jets are smaller and significantly quieter," Hamiel said. "Remember, these DC-9s are over 25 years old."
According to World Airline News, in the 1990s, NWA opted to refurbish its fleet of 170 reliable-though-fuel-guzzling DC-9s, at a cost of over $1.1 billion.
Approval has been approved
Though Benson and Strzok said they hope that MAC commissioners will decline the new map, Hamiel said it’s pretty much a done deal.
"This whole contour development process is a very public process," he said. "The commission has been discussing this issue and been looking at the process as it’s taken place. The commission’s approval isn’t really in question."
He said the MAC would submit the map to the FAA, which is expected to approve the map within three to four months. That approval is also a done deal, according to Hamiel. "The computer model is from the FCC," he said. "We used what they require us to use, so I would expect them to approve."
Once FAA approval has been granted, the MAC will take up what to do to the homes of those who live between the newly drawn 60-64 DNL lines.
Rybak insisted that MAC and the Legislature had agreed to provide full sound-mitigation measures to homes in the 60-64 DNL contour. "Promises were made and need to be followed," he said.
Said Benson, "The [airlines] clearly want to have fewer homes within the noise contours to insulate. That’s their whole goal. I don’t think anyone should be surprised about that."
Hamiel countered: "We have no indication here that anyone is reneging on any environmental commitments.
"Right now, [NWA CEO] Richard Anderson has to work on the survival of the airline," Hamiel said. "It has to reduce costs so it can compete."
Last August, Anderson called for a "moratorium" on the implementation of a $150 million noise-mitigation program for homes between the 60 and 64 DNL lines.
Hamiel said the MAC’s critics sometimes overlook its achievements. He said that this year, the MAC would finish its original commitment to enhance homes in areas being bombarded with a DNL of at least 65.
"We’re one of the few airports that have this kind of program," he said. "To be honest, my peers criticize me frequently because people around the country point to Minneapolis and ask, ‘Why do you go out past 65 DNL?’"