With increased air traffic expected to spread more noise around Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, nearby cities want to see a historic soundproofing deal extended and expanded.
Minneapolis, Richfield, Eagan and the Metropolitan Airports Commission are asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to modify an expiring court settlement so that the same help is available for other homes that find themselves in noisier flight paths.
“The cities were concerned about increased noise and wanted us to address it,” said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. “A program consistent with the existing consent decree was something we could support, provided the FAA allows it.”
The change could provide initial or increased soundproofing worth $25 million to 1,131 homes in southwest Minneapolis, according to air traffic forecasts. But officials caution that economic trends, aircraft types and runway use ultimately will determine the number and location of homes.
The move comes as airport officials plan for an 11 percent increase in traffic by 2020 — an additional 45,000 flights. That expectation has fueled a $1.5 billion expansion project at MSP airport.
“I’d rather have fewer planes,” said Pam Gillespie, who lives in a home on the 5400 block of Pleasant Avenue S. that could qualify for the first time. “But if it’s going to happen, I’d love to get some of the mitigation.”
Sign-off from the FAA is needed because the new noise predictions still fall below what the agency typically approves for soundproofing.
The cities and the airport want to extend the benefits of a 2007 agreement that ended lawsuits and decades of fighting between the Airports Commission and homeowners seeking relief from noise. The airport hopes to avoid a renewed battle.
“We don’t want to do business by litigation,” Hogan said.
Under the deal, which expires next year, the airport paid for abatement based on the severity of noise, and 6,659 homeowners got some kind of help.
Some qualified for up to $3,025 in reimbursement for soundproofing. Others living under noise that reached 60 to 62 decibels could choose between $14,000 worth of soundproofing or air conditioning and $4,000 in additional soundproofing.
Homeowners within the 63 to 64 decibel range got a larger, potentially more expensive package that included doors, windows, insulation and air conditioning.
The FAA oversees the use of airport revenues for noise mitigation. Last year it notified the airport that it is following a more restrictive policy that requires sound to reach 65 decibels outdoors and 45 decibels indoors before airport funds can be used for noise abatement.
The indoor requirement in particular struck city officials as unattainable because Twin Cities homes are more heavily insulated against cold than houses in many areas of the country.
But the FAA said this spring that it might allow the more generous abatement program reached in the court case to continue in the Twin Cities if the airport and communities agreed on a plan to extend it.
“It really memorializes and locks in the locally recognized noise standards,” said Minneapolis City Council Member John Quincy, a veteran of airport noise issues. “That’s a significant departure from FAA approaches to how noise mitigation is implemented throughout the country.”
Under the proposal, homeowners would need to experience noise 60 decibels or higher for three consecutive years to qualify for first-time or increased soundproofing. The earliest a homeowner could receive mitigation is 2017 and the program sunsets in 2024.
Some Minneapolis residents were ambivalent about the prospect of new soundproofing because it depends on noise increasing outside their homes.
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Melissa Avery, who lives in the 4800 block of Irving Avenue S. and enjoys sitting outside in the summer. While noise abatement is a good idea, she said, “We wouldn’t want it to get louder.”
But others looked forward to abatement subsidies.
“That would be huge for us,” said Jennifer Hedberg, who lives across the street. “We’d probably put in super-insulated windows.”
Plans and pushback
The push to expand the noise abatement program comes as the Metropolitan Airports Commission plans to remodel concourses and build a new international wing and a parking ramp.
The commission says the expansion is needed to handle an increase in flights expected because of the improving economy and the continuation of the Delta Air Lines hub at MSP.
The cities have agreed not to challenge the airport’s assessment of the impact on surrounding areas, and the airport has agreed to extend the mitigation program.
“Our goal was to reach a win-win situation in which the airport is able to expand as demand warrants and the cities are satisfied that their noise concerns will be addressed,” the MAC’s Hogan said.
Under the planned expansion, 2,703 metro-area homes would experience more noise by 2020 than they did in 2010. But most got soundproofing when noise reached similar levels during peak travel years ago and won’t get more.
The 2020 forecast says the 1,131 homes that likely will be eligible for mitigation are mostly in the Lake Harriet area of southwest Minneapolis.
But city officials say the abatement program would apply to any other communities that experience a sufficient increase in noise because of increased traffic or new flight patterns established by the FAA.
Gillespie, who lives just outside an existing abatement zone, remarked, “We all can’t believe that we’re not in it.”