Southwests Dan Boivin picked to head MAC

Fulton resident pledges to address airport noise concerns

Dan Boivin is the first leader of the Metropolitan Airports Commission in recent times who can see and hear from his home the planes that take off from the MSP Airport.  

Gov. Mark Dayton appointed the 24-year resident of the Fulton neighborhood to the post in February, nine years after he was appointed to serve on the MAC by Mayor R.T. Rybak, an outspoken airport noise advocate.  

Boivin is tasked with balancing Dayton’s desire for jobs and economic growth at the airport with noise and environmental concerns from his neighbors in Southwest and other communities near the airport.

“One of the keys is that for Gov. Dayton, he really wants to make sure that this economy in this state grows and jobs are added, and the airport is a job engine,” Boivin said.

While Boivin said he wants to expand on the 18,000 people employed at the airport, he promised that the MAC will not neglect the people living in the airport’s footprint.

“I know one thing: As the chair of the MAC, I am going to make sure that [noise issues] will get addressed,” he said.

Boivin has a long history of concern over airport noise.

One of Rybak’s early moves as mayor in 2002 was tapping Boivin for the one seat that Minneapolis gets on the 15-member commission. Rybak, an anti-noise candidate, was a close friend of Boivin’s.  

“This was one of my most important, if not my most important, appointment,” Rybak said. “Because it was trying to change a dynamic that for too long had let the residents of Minneapolis get run over by airport traffic.”

At the time, however, Boivin, a lawyer, had no background on airport issues and nearly no political experience. He was, in Rybak’s words, extremely intelligent, competent and able to build partnerships with those around him.

Scott Benson was also an anti-airport noise candidate and served on the City Council from 2000 to 2008.

“I thought he did a great job,” Benson said of Boivin’s time on the MAC. “He worked quite well with the city and the mayor’s office on noise issues, and was very helpful in keeping the city involved and informed.”

Boivin said he jumped right in — reading page after page of airport documents, learning the airport lingo — which looks more like alphabet soup, and getting to know the other commissioners.

It was a learning curve that included air traffic declines after 9/11, a Northwest bankruptcy and a lawsuit against the MAC from Rybak and Minneapolis.

The last nine years have also taught Boivin about the importance of the MSP Airport, he said.

Not only is the airport generally a major employer, he said it is also the largest employer of immigrants in Minnesota, and many of the jobs immigrants work at the airport are union positions with fair wages.

In addition, the airport’s role as a Delta hub allows Minnesota’s businesses to have direct flights to many destinations.

“If we can keep getting healthier out there, you employ more people in concessions and parking, and airline mechanics, so it’s an important job creator,” he said.

Jim Spensley, chair of the South Metro Airport Action Council, an advocacy group for airport issues, said he criticized Boivin over the way he handled getting airport neighbors noise mitigation materials in 2004. He said Boivin was outmaneuvered on the MAC.  

Spensley, in a statement on SMACC website, wrote, “Dan is not very knowledgeable about noise, safety, or environmental regulation, and has not been a consistent voice for neighborhoods or local air travelers.”

Boivin countered Spensley’s comments. He said he was unable to get neighbors a fair settlement from the MAC because he didn’t have the votes on a commission that was full of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointees. Eventually, the neighbors won a $127 million settlement.

“If they’re disappointed with my positions on noise, I would [challenge] them to find anyone who’s a bigger advocate for noise on the commission than me,” Boivin said. “I’ve been their biggest advocate from that perspective — on any environmental issue.”

Bright ideas

Boivin already has some visions for the future of the MAC.

He wants to make MSP Airport a bigger partner with the local arts community, mentioning the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the St. Paul History Center.

Though there is already some art on display at the airport, he would like to see more.

“We have so many people that come through to change planes,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to showcase the Twin Cities.”

Spensley said that the MAC has historically been difficult to access because meetings are held in the airport, and attendees have to cajole their way through security.

Boivin said he wants to hold a meeting out in the community so more become involved.

Rybak said Boivin will do well in his new role.

“This is a huge development for those of us who have spent a decade or two fighting an airports commission that we don’t feel was responsive enough,” Rybak said.

The Dan Boivin File
Age: 54
Residence: Fulton neighborhood since 1987
Family: Wife Marnie Weston Boivin, three sons
Education: Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; law degree from Hamline University
Profession: Executive vice-president, chief legal officer, and general counsel for SeeChange Health, a value-based health insurance and technology company