Residents of Minneapolis and Edina mobilized and lobbied to keep plane noise out of their back yards. The ruling to delay a new FAA flight pattern came at the expense of Richfield.
Those who shout can shut out the noise.
That lesson was delivered loud and clear last week as a blizzard of e-mails, petitions and phone calls rallied homeowners in Minneapolis and Edina to defeat a plan to route more airplanes over some of their neighborhoods.
But their victory came at the expense of Richfield, which had pinned hopes on the new flight pattern to reduce noise in its city and was blindsided by a last-minute offensive by Edina to kill it.
"They successfully mobilized and we were drowned out," said Pam Dmytrenko, Richfield assistant city manager.
The episode illustrates how the fight over airport noise can pit community against community and how victory sometimes goes to the best organized.
Edina homeowners organized an exceptional campaign even though their community would have experienced less noise than Minneapolis and Richfield under the proposed plan. Much of the opposition was generated by neighborhood activists who issued dire warnings.
"Toxic Super Highway for Planes planned for Edina," read one e-mail chain.
"This WILL dramatically reduce your quality of life AND significantly reduce your property values," read another sent to four dozen neighbors.
"Edina has a long tradition of winning and this is one we can't lose," read an e-mail urging residents to call officials and attend an airport meeting to defeat the proposal.
They were among homeowners who packed a meeting of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) last week when it considered the new flight plan, which uses a system promoted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for airports around the nation.
The new system uses satellite technology to condense takeoff routes onto narrower flight paths. The FAA says the technology improves safety by reducing communications between airport controllers and pilots and saves airlines fuel by sending planes on more precise routes.
The system also can allow planes to be routed more precisely over less populated areas. This promised relief for homes in Richfield, where City Manager Steve Devich said takeoffs increased after the FAA altered flight patterns in September 2010 in response to a near crash of a cargo plane and airliner.
"Passenger safety is paramount," Devich said. "You didn't see Richfield raising a huge protest."
Seeking some relief
But Richfield homeowners grew increasingly irritated.
"These folks asked, 'When are we going to get relief from this?'" he said.
Richfield embraced the new system because it promised to steer those planes safely over the Crosstown Expressway, where many of the nearby homes already had government-subsidized noise proofing, and away from more exposed neighborhoods.
The FAA envisioned the Crosstown route as part of a broader plan that included sending other planes over the Minnesota River Valley and Cedar Avenue to provide relief to south suburban Eagan and Mendota Heights.
But the new plan drew objections from other communities after the Star Tribune reported Nov. 4 that it would benefit some homeowners but hurt others. The story included a map of the proposed air traffic routes.
Minneapolis City Council Member John Quincy cast the lone dissenting vote when the plan came before an airport noise advisory panel of representatives from the metro region. The City Council, Mayor R.T. Rybak and the Minneapolis legislative delegation wrote the MAC to urge it to hold off endorsing the plan until a more rigorous study could be conducted on its effect on noise. The MAC held open houses on the plan that drew 203 in Eagan and 109 in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis homeowners south of 50th Street -- where more flights would be concentrated -- created a website and organized a petition drive that produced thousands of signatures. Kevin Terrell, a board member of the Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association, argued that noise projections by the MAC were invalid because they relied on monitoring towers that aren't close enough to the proposed routes.
Minneapolis homeowners have a history of activism on airport noise, participating with Richfield and Eagan in a lawsuit that resulted in a 2007 settlement that provided noise-proofing for 5,800 homes. Edina is farther from the noisiest areas and hasn't been very involved in noise issues -- until this month.
With median home values nearly twice that of Hennepin County and nearly two-thirds of its residents holding college degrees, Edina residents also have been active participants in public affairs. In 2008, dozens signed a petition against oversized new homes and protested traffic control proposals for the Country Club neighborhood.
The e-mail campaign against the FAA proposal took on urgency the weekend before the MAC was to vote on it at the airport meeting.
"If you don't take action today, you will have missed your chance," read one.
"Show up to the meeting ... or send your attorneys," read another.
"Need to arrive early to get a pass and go thru security ... We need a strong grass roots representation."
Said Devich: "It was a shocker to us that Edina was going to take this very aggressive approach." The proposed flight plan, he said, "didn't bother them that much."
Under the proposal, one concentrated departure route would send planes northwest on a path over homes near 55th and Penn Avenue in southwest Minneapolis and continue to climb higher over Edina more than a mile away.
The airport says day-night noise levels would increase from an average of 53 decibels to 55.4 decibels at the Minneapolis location. At Hwy. 100 and Vernon Avenue in Edina -- near the Country Club neighborhood -- the level would increase from 47.4 decibels to 51.7 decibels.
Edina City Manager Scott Neal acknowledges that the effect on Edina was unclear. While increasing flights over some Edina neighborhoods, the proposal would have eliminated flights over other Edina areas. The city probably would have seen a decrease in overall flights.
"It is quite possible that with this proposal, more people in Edina could have been made better off than the number that were made worse off," Neal said.
But he said the proposal needed to be shelved for now so that further study can be done on its effect.
Over the objections of Richfield, the MAC decided at its meeting to support the concentrated flight routes over Eagan and Mendota Heights and to oppose them over southwest Minneapolis, Edina and Richfield. The FAA wanted to launch the system for all flights by early next year, but said the decision means the earliest it could go into effect anywhere at the airport is mid-2014.
Richfield officials say the delay deprives their residents of relief.
"We still take it on the chin," Dmytrenko said.
"I think the folks in Richfield have a valid argument and they have a right to be ticked off," Neal said. "It's unfortunate that ... it had to be a zero-sum gain, at least in the short run."
Pat Doyle 612-673-4504