Tentative settlement reached in airport-noise class action lawsuit

For the past decade, residents of Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan have been waiting for the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to make good on its promise for noise-mitigation benefits. Earlier this month, the residents involved in the class action lawsuit and the commission reached a tentative agreement that could give almost $65 million to noise-affected residents.

When the airport expanded in the mid-1990s, it increased levels of noise for nearby residents. To counteract the burden, the MAC promised noise mitigation packages to homes within 60 or higher Day-noise Night Level (DNL) – a unit of measurement used by the Federal Aviation Administration to measure noise around airports. The packages are averaged at around $40,000, and, so far, over 8,000 homes within 65 DNL or higher have received them, costing the MAC $232 million. Residents within 60-64 DNL are suing the MAC for their share.

Due to new less-noisy airplanes, the area within 60-64 DNL has shrunk substantially since the MAC’s original promise for mitigation. Therefore, almost half of the 8,100 residents who signed up for the lawsuit won’t receive any part of the payout.

As part of the agreement reached between homeowners and the MAC earlier this month, roughly 4,400 households would be eligible to receive noise mitigation benefits. Those residents would receive free central air conditioning and $1,750 toward the purchase and installation of noise-mitigation products. Of that amount, up to $750 can go toward legal fees. The lawyers representing the residents in the class action lawsuit are expected to get $3 million.

Homeowners who already have central air conditioning would receive $9,250 for noise-mitigation products or cash reimbursement should such products already exist in their homes. _

The settlement still must be approved by Hennepin County District Judge Stephen Aldrich.

In 2005, the three cities filed a similar lawsuit against the MAC, but they have yet to come to a resolution. Aldrich, who also oversees the homeowners’ suit against the MAC, has asked the cities to come up with their own settlement proposal, determining what they believe to be a fair payout to residents. According to Merland Otto, a principle planner for Minneapolis, the cities want to stick with the contour map that the MAC developed in 2005, which does not allow for DNL shrinkage due to quieter planes.

It’s unclear as to whether affected homeowners would be able to receive settlement money from both lawsuits. “We strongly believe that MAC may argue that any resident who accepts [or fails to opt-out of] MAC’s offer mentioned above would be ineligible to participate in a more generous settlement or judgment if one is later obtained in the cities’ lawsuit,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a prepared statement.

State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) also issued a statement in the wake of the settlement: “Early information about the outline of the deal, cut without any prior input by the vast majority of the residents, or the cities who represent them, indicates that the package falls far short of [the MAC’s original] promise.”

He encouraged those in the noise-affected areas to “closely scrutinize” the terms of the proposed agreement.

MAC meetings move closer to home

During this year’s legislative session, Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) proposed a bill that would require the MAC to hold yearly meetings in a noise-affected area other than the Commission Chambers, which is on the Mezzanine Level above Chili’s restaurant in the Lindberg Terminal.

Hornstein proposed the bill after discovering how inconvenient it was to park in the airport lot, take the tram across the terminal and go through security simply to attend a public meeting. “For what other agency do you have to take off your shoes and get patted down at a public meeting to participate in democracy?” he asked, suggesting a local community center as an alternative.

The bill passed through the House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs committee. As a compromise, MAC officials have agreed to hold annual offsite meetings. The dates of the meetings have yet to be determined.

Reach Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.