What’s at stake in the airport lawsuit

The cities of Minneapolis, Eagan and Richfield have filed suit in state court against the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to get airport noise mitigation measures city officials say their beleaguered residents were promised.

The cities are suing the MAC for up to $300 million worth of sound insulation negotiated a decade ago to citizens living near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. City officials claim that, in return for an expanded airport, MAC agreed in 1996 to fully insulate homes within the 60-64 DNL (day-night noise level), including many in Southwest. Last year, the MAC offered those residents air conditioning, with costs split between the commission and homeowners on a sliding-fee scale.

The MAC's plan could cost $55 million, but since many residents within the affected sound contour already have air conditioning, the final tab is likely to be far less than the commission suggests.

Mayor R.T. Rybak rejects the notion of sliding A/C fees,. He wants the residents to get the full insulation package- which costs about $45,000 per house.

"We have to stop negotiating for people from our knees and instead stand up for what we were promised," Rybak said. "Our goal is to get people the money they were promised."

MAC Executive Director Jeff Hamiel said the commission is living up to its 1996 promise to provide some mitigation to 60-64 DNL homeowners. He said the MAC didn't promise full insulation.

Responded Rybak, "A comment like that is insulting. Don't tell the thousands of residents who heard this [promise of mitigation] and read this [promise of mitigation], that they were imagining something."

He said the lawsuit is one prong in a multifaceted attack to secure noise mitigation. Other efforts includes a recent lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. to urge the Minnesota Congressional Delegation to increase pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration, and a Minneapolis effort in the State Legislature to pass a bill rerouting some cargo flights to cities such as Rochester, Duluth and St. Cloud.

Said Rybak, "None of this is going to be easy, but the important part is that Minneapolis is no longer fighting this on its own."

He said Bloomington might join the lawsuit, though its City Council has yet to vote on the question.