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More noise for better airplane efficiency: Minneapolis, Edina neighborhoods fighting the plan

Aggressive efforts by both communities prompt the Federal Aviation Administration to delay action.

The Federal Aviation Administration won’t decide until next year whether to fully implement a new system that would steer more Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport flights over southwest Minneapolis and Edina neighborhoods.

But efforts to prevent the move — and the increased noise that would result — are gearing up on two fronts.

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First, some background: The FAA wants to install navigation technology at U.S. airports that uses satellites to guide planes more precisely as they take off and land. The switch would concentrate flights that now are diffused across wide paths into tighter, narrower bands.

The FAA says the change would increase efficiency and reduce delays, fuel burn and emissions.

After residents and elected officials objected, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) voted in 2012 to recommend partial implementation — exempting two runways that would affect southwest Minneapolis and Edina.

Runway 30L departures during north flow operationsSource: Metropolitan Airports CommissionRunway 30L departures during north flow operations.

Runway 30R departures during north flow operationsSource: Metropolitan Airports CommissionRunway 30R departures during north flow operations.

‘Wait a minute’

“When the community spoke out, the board listened and said ‘wait a minute,’” says MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan.

The FAA decided to delay the plan until July 2014 for arriving flights and until September 2014 for departures. It’s still possible, Hogan says, that the FAA could decide that it “can’t do a partial implementation.”

That’s what worries people who live in the areas that would be subjected to big increases in the number of daily flights overhead.

For example, applying the new routes to departures from Runway 30L would increase the number of flights northwest of the airport across Lake Calhoun toward Golden Valley; south of Lake Harriet across northern sections of Edina toward Hopkins; and west along the Crosstown through Edina before looping to the southwest.

The City of Edina has hired a Denver law firm with expertise in airport noise issues to represent its interests, says City Council member Joni Bennett.

“We wanted to make sure we understood our rights,” she says. “We understand that we share in the benefit of having a close-in airport. We also believe the burden should be shared.”

In a Star Tribune opinion column published in March, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the plan “could create a nonstop superhighway jammed with airplanes” over parts of Edina and Minneapolis.

An airplane approaching the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport over Linden HillsMinnPost photo by Judy KeenAn airplane approaching the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport over Linden Hills.

Before the MAC vote last November, area residents quickly mobilized to collect 4,200 signatures last year on a petition asking that the proposal be blocked and in January formed the MSP FairSkies Coalition.

The Coalition has done its own research on the new navigation system and its impact and is sharing information and strategies with other communities across the nation that are waging similar battles against airport noise.

Steve Kittleson, a Coalition organizer who lives in Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood, says the process has been frustrating.

“We’re looking for trust and transparency” from the FAA “and we’ve seen very little,” he says. “I think it’s an uphill battle, but we’re excited about the level of awareness we’ve been able to generate.”

FAA spokesmen were unavailable to respond because of the federal government shutdown.

Simplest solution

Kevin Terrell, another Coalition leader and a board member of the Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association, says the proposal would mean an increase in the number of flights over his home from 25 to 135 a day.

“The simplest solution,” he says, “would be to do what we’ve said all along: Don’t implement” the change on the two north runways “and everybody’s happy.”

The Coalition has been leading the fight on a second front: A proposed change in FAA regulations that would allow it to implement the new system without environmental review if certain noise and efficiency criteria are met.

Almost 600 public comments were submitted; the deadline was Sept. 30. Objections were submitted by community and citizens groups in New Jersey, New York and California.

Among the many comments submitted by Minnesotans was one from Marguerite Collins, a Minneapolis resident, who wrote that the new navigation routes would “smother the quality of life” and “property values would plummet.”

Steve Kittleson, left, and Kevin Terrell of the MSP FairSkies Coalition.MinnPost photo by Judy KeenSteve Kittleson, left, and Kevin Terrell of the MSP FairSkies Coalition.

Liz Kinney, another Minneapolis resident, wrote that the result would be “a terribly negative effect on all the residents, school children and businesses in the affected areas.”

In a letter Monday to FAA administrator Michael Huerta, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat representing the Fifth District, said the proposed regulation could allow “substantial changes to noise impacts with no appropriate environmental review.” That concern, he wrote, “has resulted in an incredible amount of comments by my constituents.”

Ellison said implementation of the new navigation system without “a thorough view of their effects ignores the concerns that municipalities and constituents that I represent have expressed.”

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Bennett says environmental risks should be measured before the FAA makes its final decision. “The air quality issue should be assessed, health impacts should be assessed,” she says.

The MSP FairSkies Coalition also is challenging the FAA’s noise standards. The agency says levels below 65 decibels are acceptable. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends 55-decibel limits near homes, schools and hospitals.

Terrell says Congress should require the FAA to limit flight noise to 55 decibels and calls the 65-decibel benchmark “completely capricious.”

Legislation introduced in April in the Minnesota House by Democratic Rep. Frank Hornstein would require the MAC to conduct an environmental impact statement for airport that would have to be completed and approved before the FAA could move ahead with its plans.

Opponents say they won’t quit until the proposal is withdrawn. “What this is about,” Kittleson says, “is they’re changing the rules on us.”