Director Hamiel Agrees.
AIRPORT NOISE is "real and mitigation by insulating homes doesn't make it go away." Director Jeff Hamiel said in his presentation at the South Metro Airport Action Council's Fall Forum 2003. "MSP is the eighth busiest airport in the United States." Hamiel said "In 2020, we estimate over 48 million passengers will use MSP; this is 1,865 operations per day." Hamiel said the sound insulation program "mitigates airport noise by allowing people to escape it inside their homes" but "as soon as you open your windows or go outside, you can experience noise as loud as 98 dbA as a plane passes overhead. 98 dbA is REALLY LOUD."
Hamiel was asked to speak to three time periods by Jim Spensley, SMAAC President, and then answer questions from attendees. Spensley noted that MAC Commissioner John Williams was present, and thanked him for his interest. MAC had "an aggressive noise program" including a noise exposure map "drawn to Federal standards" and the Sound Insulation Program, but based on use projections "from the early to mid 1990's." At an eventual cost of about $240 million over 7,000 homes and many schools were insulated to reduce interior noise, Hamiel stated. The "noise impacted area" was based on noise of "65 DNL" or more on the map, which also showed areas exposed to "64 to 60 DNL." In 1996, the Legislature decided the airport could be expanded to meet area transportation needs through 2020. This caused plans developed in the dual-track study and an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to be augmented. The for-1996 noise exposure map was updated to 2001 projections, but the EIS was not approved until 1998 and the new map was submitted for FAA approval in late 1999. "The 65DNL noise mitigation program was continued during this period" Hamiel said "and in keeping with various agreements, MAC negotiated an additional $150 million for mitigation out to the 60 DNL." He said "The treatment may be slightly reduced because the levels are lower, but the present policy of the Commission is to complete this program." He noted that several new Commissioners have been appointed and "a different (majority) can make policy changes." Noise increases as a result of more operations using the same aircraft. "However, using Stage 3 aircraft, like the Airbus 319, probably reduced the impacted area." Hamiel continued. He said that a 5 decibel reduction halves noise intensity. "MAC withdrew the for-2001 update in the wake of 9/11 and slowed implementation of the SIP." he reported, "leaving us with the 1996 map. The next map, for 2007, is being prepared by our Consultant, HNTB, to be available in January." Hamiel said, "I don't know for sure, but I expect the noise impacted area will be smaller and skewed to the Southeast because of 25% use of the new runway. Smaller because only newer aircraft or hush-kit are allowed since 2000." A spirited discussion followed. The first question was "Who represents me in the airport noise planning?" Director Hamiel suggested the city member of the Noise Oversight Committee (NOC).
Spensley said SMAAC had no confidence in NOC, but City Council Member Scott Benson was the Minneapolis member of NOC. "This is the best time to state your concern," he said, "because Director Hamiel and Commissioner Williams are here."
Several questions were asked about the noise exposure map. Director Hamiel said "Our consultant, HNTB, prepares the maps from Commission and staff guidance because the process is technical and complicated and they have the requisite expertise." He pointed out that MAC uses an array of 39 monitoring stations around MSP to "validate" the noise exposure map. SMAAC VP Neil Clark stated he studied the data from the monitoring stations as reported by MAC and "did not find that the map levels were confirmed." Hamiel agreed to see that his study was reviewed by MAC staff. Clark said "The noise staff have had the study for two years without commenting on it, so I re-submitted it to the NOC and at a quarterly meeting. My study shows a year to year increase in noise." Note: Various technical terms, confusing to the lay public, are used by HNTB, FAA, and MAC for noise. These include total noise, noise intensity (decibels), peak noise, average noise, noise exposure, and noise impact (area). Speaking of the Integrated Noise Model, the computer program used to produce the noise exposure maps, validation means that the algorithms, methods, and computations correctly transform the input projections into a table of values suitable for drawing contours on a map. Clark's study is reported in the Fall 2003 SMAAC Newsletter. Responding to Hamiel's reference to the SIP cost to date ($240 million) and passenger use of MSP since 1989 when passenger facility charges were imposed, former MASAC representative Glenn Strand said the program had cost only about $1 per ticket. "MAC should not consider noise mitigation a one-time fix. Night flights could be discouraged by higher landing fees and PFC rates. Airport operations that continue to cause damage should be matched by continued compensation." "I know of no case where fees differ for nighttime use and this is probably because of legal complications." Hamiel replied. Spensley said the idea was not only lawful, but consistent with NEPA. "Permit limits, fines for exceeding limits, and enforcement of operational and investment policies that reduce emissions is usual." Hamiel said that since 2000, only Stage 2 aircraft have been allowed, so differential fees based on (source) noise were considered "discriminatory." Hamiel said he personally did not fly when the flight landed or departed an airport at night, and if all travelers followed his example, lack of demand would eliminate most night operations. SMAAC President Emeritus Dick Saunders remarked that "We are ignoring the 500-pound gorilla in the room. Isn't Northwest Airlines vigorously opposing the extending the SIP to under-65 DNL areas and blocking public concerns and expert testimony about the noise exposure map development?" Hamiel said "I have had discussions with them, and Northwest is unhappy with my positions on this and related expansion matters. Airlines are financially fragile, Northwest included, and Minnesota has been generous at times because their jobs, services, and purchases are important economically ." Hamiel said. State Senator Jane Ranum asked Hamiel about the State loans to Northwest. "The re-payment terms of the $340 million loan were interest only for 10 years, and the payments have all been made on time. Now Northwest is beginning to repay the principle as well." Ranum asked "Is MAC was reducing capital spending and re-negotiating leases and fees as an additional concession to Northwest?" Hamiel said "Not only 9/11, but a slowing of the economy before that and continuing apprehension by leisure travelers, necessitated spending adjustments by MAC as well as all the user airlines and airport related businesses." Spensley noted that the Noise Compatibility Program is funded by per-passenger fees, but the budget was cut by 80% in 2002 and 2003 when passenger use was down only 20% in 2002 and 17% in 2003.