Council Members updated on efforts to mitigate airport noise

The Minneapolis City Council received an update on recent efforts to mitigate airport noise and advocate on behalf of Minneapolis residents whenever changes to federal aviation and regulations could affect them. This includes work on legislative and regulatory language that affects flight path changes in Minneapolis as well as work on regulatory changes that impact the city's noise insulation program.

While the City of Minneapolis recognizes the value that the airport brings to the Twin Cities, it also recognizes that our residents deserve protection from noise pollution. For years, the City has been one of the most active cities in the country in advocating for community input on federal aviation policy decisions. These efforts have resulted in one of the most extensive airport noise mitigation programs in the nation as the airport itself prepares for an increase in traffic.

Changes in airport navigation

The most recent Federal Aviation Policy bill requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement the next generation of airplane navigation, conveniently known as NextGen. A portion of NextGen is a series of departure and arrival procedures known at RNAV.

Under current departure procedures, airplanes leave the runway and are told to head in a specific direction. However, the exact path those planes travel can vary significantly. Under RNAV, planes taking off would all aim for one of a few specific points a couple miles out from the airport. Since the points would not change from day to day, those paths would get a great concentration of flight traffic. That gave airports near freeways, rivers, industrial corridors or other land that does not have homes the opportunity to route flights over those unpopulated areas and lessen the impact of airplane noise in places where people live. Of course, the City and residents of south Minneapolis immediately recognized that some of those advantages from RNAV would not be available in a heavily populated area where there are no unpopulated areas to concentrate flights.  The City and community grew concerned that the tracks could be more burden than benefit and asked for more information.  

Residents and City officials from both Minneapolis and Edina strenuously objected to the lack of public process in developing these RNAV tracks. The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) listened and asked the FAA to move forward with implementation of RNAV on most runways at the airport, but to delay in the implementation of the tracks for runways 30L and 30R.The FAA is now investigating whether they can implement RNAV safely on some of the runways while not implementing it on runways 30L and 30R. The FAA has stated they currently do not plan to implement RNAV tracks for those runways. Obviously decisions can change, so the City is watching this topic closely. 

Noise mitigation

In 2005, the Cities of Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan, as well as the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, filed a lawsuit against the MAC seeking to require the MAC to provide homes with noise abatement help (insulation and/or air conditioning, for example). A $127.6 million settlement cleared the way for some form of noise mitigation for more than 9,560 homes in Minneapolis, Richfield, Eagan and Bloomington. However, a projected increase in flights threatened that court-approved settlement agreement.

Minneapolis City officials have been tracking plans and are now pushing the MAC to extend the existing noise mitigation program to any homes that may be affected by the future airport traffic. On May 10 the City Council approved a measure to have the MAC continue to address the impact of airport noise on surrounding Minneapolis communities through an amendment to the settlement agreement. Under the proposed amendment, MAC will use the actual flight data for 2013 and following years to, using their computer model, annually produce contours showing which blocks are receiving noise above the agreed upon threshold level. After a home that has not previously been offered noise mitigation has been within the new threshold area for three consecutive years, the process for providing noise mitigation for these homes would then begin.  

Because the original settlement agreement was between the MAC and multiple jurisdictions, all of those parties needed to approve the amendment to the settlement agreement. In May 2013 the amended agreement was approved by each of the plaintiff cities and now must also be approved by the Court and the FAA.

Once approved by the Court and the FAA, the agreement will require that noise will be monitored and mapped annually and will ensure that homes that are newly within a threshold area get noise mitigation of the kind provided in the 2007 settlement. It also ensures that mitigation will be based on our locally recognized noise standards which are more stringent than other communities. 

More information on airport noise mitigation efforts is available at www.minneapolismn.gov/airportnoise.

Published Jul 1, 2013