Senator Dayton Charges MAC and Northwest Airlines with Bad Faith

U.S. Senator Mark Dayton has charged the Metropolitan Airports Commission and Northwest Airlines with bad faith in negotiations for noise insulation for homes in the new 64-60 DNL noise zone around Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Dayton was the keynote speaker at the South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC) Spring Forum at Richfield City Hall Saturday. Dayton spoke eloquently of his concerns about the direction of American government. He said that democracy works best when citizens are well-informed, including being well-informed by government itself. "Candidates who believe government is bad have been elected." Dayton said. "Then, they prove the point by running government badly."

Dayton asserted that Northwest Airlines‚ importance as the largest business in Minnesota has been recognized by government, and many times when needed, and assuming good faith on Northwest‚s part, government has acted with aid. The Senator said that airport noise abatement illustrated the danger when the cooperation becomes politicized. In this case, Northwest has not met its commitments to Minnesota, and government has not met its commitment to the neighborhoods, businesses, and travelers affected. He cited loans, special laws, tax breaks, and public investments benefitting Northwest.

"The financial fix Northwest is in is related to the financial restructuring they went through while I was State Auditor" (1990-1994), Dayton said. "It is indeed bad government for the airports commission to re-define its commitments to noise abatement and divert noise mitigation funds to help Northwest with expansion of its hub. It reduces citizen faith in all government for city governments to need to sue a State agency," Dayton said.

He challenged MAC‚s contention that the 1996 state law establishing the 64-60 zone of eligibility for noise insulation did not require, and MAC had not committed to provide, what the cities sought. "To my reading, it does commit MAC to extend the full 5 db sound insulation program as soon as the 69-60 DNL program is completed."

Earlier, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak thanked attendees for their faithfulness on airport issues. He acknowledged that SMAAC had advised the cities over two years ago to go to court in a lawsuit similar to the one filed last month. Rybak said that he is working with other mayors on various ways to limit noise from MSP. He said that the Legislature "is considering" establishing a state aviation plan. SMAAC elected two new Directors (Marie Hauser and Shireen Stone) and re-elected three others to its board˜Dick Saunders, Ron Lischeid and Gerry D‚Amour.

Background on airport noise.

The South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC) advised the cities to seek judicial relief in 2000,when the first steps away from commitments made to MSP?s neighbors and local passengers were taken by MAC in conjunction with expanding MSP as a major hub. The deal struck with MAC and Northwest Airlines through legislation in 1996 included noise mitigation during and after construction of expanded "capacity" at MSP. However, MAC staff agreed (in the summer of 2000) to reduce the sound insulation budget by over $200 million in "negotiations" with Northwest and other airlines for 5-year leases of gates and terminal facilities.

According to information uncovered by SMAAC, MAC wanted to 1) avoid comparison of actual noise to the 1996 projected noise exposure maps, and 2) delay noise exposure map updates, so that projected use of new Runway 17-35 and the effects of older (Stage II) airliners could be adjusted to minimize the 64 -60 DNL impacted areas.

SMAAC questioned the lack of noise reduction and other environmental protection measures in 1997, when changes in flight frequency, more operations at peak hours, during 1996 belied the noise exposure (contour) map then in use for sound insulation eligibility.

According to SMAAC President Jim Spensley, attention increased use of the main runways and plans to add gates for more hub use by Northwest and its partners ushered in an era of undue collaboration between MAC and its tenants to limit noise mitigation and environmental compliance program budgets. "However," Spensley reported, "only once in all that time were citizen comments considered before MAC or its Committees, voted on the mattersbeing addressed. That one time, Northwest led the airline members offthe Metro Airport Sound Abatement Council. Northwest lobbied at MAC in St. Paul and in Washington against enforcement of FEIS conditions and for reduced noise reduction programs.

SMAAC notes that MSP expansion was justified based on Minnesota economic growth (need) projections for the year 2020, expressed as the passenger capacity available after connecting passenger capacity was subtracted from seat capacity (hubbing factor). After 9/11, MAC "re-set" its expansion schedule, again under-estimating flights, and noise, in 2007 (and 2010and 2020). "Over 3,000 families in Minneapolis and Richfield experienced (more) noise over the threshold that was to be mitigated. Although the Chair and key commissioners were secretly engaged in planning with Northwest for more hub expansion, more flights, and more noise, MAC withdrew the then pending Part 150 Update in late 2001, and engaged a consultant to re-do projections and maps based on (low) airport operations in 2002.


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