Deal reached in airport noise lawsuit

After two years of litigation, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and the cities of Minneapolis, Eagan and Richfield have reached a settlement that will give roughly $127 million worth of noise mitigation products to roughly 9,000 residents living under the airport’s loudest flight paths.

The agreement is based on a 2007 Day-night Level (DNL) map, which outlines homes that are most affected by flight paths using a unit of measurement designed to measure airport noise. The cities had originally hoped to base the settlement on a 2005 map that would have included more houses.

According to a statement from the MAC, single-family homes within 63-64 DNL will receive the full noise mitigation package that those living within 65 DNL or greater have already gotten. Depending on the improvements needed, they could receive central air conditioning, new windows and doors, insulation and chimney treatment. This group will be the first to receive benefits. Work should finish by the end of 2009.

Single-family homes within 60-62 DNL can choose between two options that would be implemented by December 2012: they can receive central air conditioning and up to $4,000 worth of additional noise mitigation products or, if they already have air conditioning, $14,000 in noise mitigation products.

Multi-family homes within 60-64 DNL will get permanent air conditioners with acoustical covers by December 2010.

As part of the agreement, all of the homes on a block that touches a DNL contour line will receive the benefits.

Another $7 million has been set aside for residents who live in homes in which the previous owners opted out of the MAC’s initial round of mitigation installation and would now like to opt-in. Any remaining money will go toward reimbursing the approximately 1,835 single-family homes that were included in the 2005 DNL map.

Homeowners who sell their properties within two years of receiving noise mitigation products would be required to reimburse the MAC for 25 percent of the cost of the products, up to $3,500.

The MAC has also agreed to pay for the cities’ $2.5 million attorney fees.

The City Council unanimously approved the settlement on Oct. 16. Mayor R.T. Rybak called it dramatically more than anything the MAC has ever offered in the past, including the settlement reached with residents who filed a similar class action suit against the MAC in 2005. Their proposed agreement, reached last spring, would have given $65 million to roughly 4,400 households.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, and Judge Stephen Aldrich, who presided over the case, have yet to approve the cities settlement.

This is the best settlement we could get at this time, said Council Member Scott Benson (11th Ward), who has already heard from some residents who are upset that they aren’t included in the 2007 map. Residents can visit macnoise.com/maps to see if their home is eligible for benefits.

As part of their decision to expand the airport rather than move it to a more remote location in the mid-1990s, the MAC promised to provide noise mitigations products to homes within 60 to 65 DNL. Years later, after insulating or acquiring homes in 65 or greater DNL, the commission decided to stop providing mitigation to homes, citing less noisy airplanes.

“Finally, justice is being served for people who deserve protection for the largest investment that most of them will ever make — their home,” said Rybak in a prepared statement. “We finally have vindication.”

Contact Mary O’Regan at moregan@mnpubs.com or 436-5088.