MINNEAPOLIS - The FAA's proposed consolidation of jet routes would bring more air traffic to some areas, but residents in those neighborhoods shouldn't expect any help with sound proofing their homes.
Pat Hogan, the chief spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, or MAC, told KARE Monday that areas with extra flights overhead wouldn't experience enough added noise to qualify for current noise mitigation programs.
Since 1992 the MAC has performed "acoustic modifications" to 13,755 homes near MSP International. In order to qualify for that voluntary program, the homes had to be located in a block with an average noise level of 60 decibels.
Most of the homes in that noise mitigation program are close enough to the main runways that they already experience all of the arriving and departing jets originating at MSP. So concentrating thoseflight routes, as the FAA would do, would not bring marked changes in those areas.
The effect of the consolidated routes would be felt instead in areas that are farther from the runways, where flights are currently dispersed over a broader area but would be channeled into more of a defined "highway" in the sky.
But those jets are typically flying at higher altitudes in those neighborhoods as well, making it tougher for the noise levels in those areas to break the 60-decibel threshold. Hogan said more frequent flights in those areas wouldn't change the average noise readings.
In other words, the noise may be more frequent with more flights. But the loudness of that noise still won't exceed the threshold that makes a home qualified for mitigation.
On Monday, the MAC voted against endorsing the FAA plan for the time being. The FAA has the power to implement it without a green light from the MAC, but the agency isn't likely to proceed without a that local endorsement.
Much of the resistance to the flight route consolidation came from residents of southwest Minneapolis and Edina, areas that didn't qualify for noise mitigation. Residents worry about the home values being affected by the addedjet count, if the consolidated routesbecome reality.
"We discovered yesterday that our house is directly on the new flight path superhighway, and that we can expect flights every 2-5 minutes roaring above our heads," Timothy Kinney of southwest Minneapolis wrote to KARE.
"This will certainly destroy the serenity of our wonderful street and really the whole neighborhood."
A viewer from Edina said homeowners have received no specifics from the MAC or the FAA, detailing which blocks wouldsee increased traffic, and how that would affect noise levels.
"They put out a graphical map of the new take-off pattern, but no indication of what this means," one Edina viewer wrote.
"What if I have landing patterns and take-off patterns over my house? Did they give enough information to my city officials?"
Rebecca Thevdt, who recently moved to Edina from California, said the airplane noise has been tolerable so far.
"Every once in awhile there will be a series of planes for two or three hours, then we won't notice them again for a couple days," Thevdt said, adding that there are too many unknowns about what traffic she would see in the area near 50th and France.
"It depends on when those flights are," she said. "I'd rather not have them during the day when I'm out in the yard, but if they're coming in at midnight I won't care."
A brief history of MSP Noise Mitigation
Purpose: The MAC agreed to do sound proofing to various degrees as a trade-off, in exchange for expanding the airport at the current location rather than move toan exurban area such as Lakeville.
Scope: Since 1992 the MAC has done acoustic modifications, in varying degrees, to 13,755 homes near the airport. The work has varied based on distance to the runway, changes in airport sound contours and design of programs.
Costs: The MAC paid for the improvements with a surcharge on tickets. Northwest Airlines opposed the idea of the surcharge, but had to participate in the program.
Measuring Sound: MAC developed sophisticated scientific models for gauging average noise levels, based on landings and departures, placing noise sensing microphones throughout the area.
The analysis also factored in average altitude of planes on the glide slope, distances from airport and noise from other sources. That resulted in elaborate sound contour maps, which were in turn used to determine eligibility of individual city blocks.
Eligibility - Phase 1: Blocks with average readings of 65 decibels or higher qualified for Phase One, which received full noise mitigation package of AC, new windows and insulation. This covered roughly 8,000 homes, beginning in 1992.
Eligibility - Phase 2: Blocks with average readings between 60 and 64.9 decibels qualified for Phase Two, which gave homeowners a choice of different sound proofing options. Many chose either central AC or windows, but could not afford both with the allotted budget caps.
Qualified residents were also allowed to spend out of pocket to augment the MAC money. This phase covered roughly 5,700 homes, beginning in 2009.
Rybak Lawsuit: MAC decided in 2004 to do essentially do away with the planned Phase 2, by scaling it back to a $30 million program. At a contentious public meeting that summer Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak said he would turn to the courts for relief.
In 2005, Minneapolis and other cities sued MAC, asserting the agency broke a pledge to expand the program beyond the 65-decibel contour. A group of affected homeowners in the Phase 2 footprint also sued the MAC separately.
In 2007, Hennepin County Judge Stephen Aldrich agreed MAC had broken a pledge, and the two sides reached a settlement decree later that year that authorized Phase 2 to begin.
Moving Targets: The MAC developed tighter, less generous sound contours in 2002, based on the projection that airplane engines would become quieter in the future as NWA retired older planes in its fleet. One neighborhood, for example, dropped from 64.9 decibels to 62 decibels.
Political Overtones: In the mid to late 1990's, Rybak gained popularity in Minneapolis by leading neighborhood resistance to airport noise, and was elected mayor in 1998.
Vicki Tigwell was chair of the MAC in 2004 when the commission voted to significantly scale back Phase Two of the noise abatement program. Tigwell was appointed chair by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and is the ex-wife of one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate John Grunseth.
Rybak and other Minneapolis politicians at the time accused the Republicans Pawlenty and Tigwell of siding with NWA over the residents of Minneapolis, a Democratic stronghold.