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South Metro Airport Action Council
** S M A A C **

Media Coverage of the Class Action Lawsuit Filing Was Misleading.

By Jim Spensley

The Star-Tribune story (September 7, by Terry Fiedler) poorly reported the class-action lawsuit filed on September 2 against the Metropolitan Airports Commission and Northwest Airlines. Other media based their coverage on his story

Of the 7 paragraphs published, 3 reported about the lawsuit; 4 were about "related" matters. MAC‚s position (3 paragraphs) was presented more sympathetically than the citizens‚ complaint. The other paragraph was old news about the cities‚ lawsuit filed last April. SMAAC, an airport watchdog organization supported by hundreds of MSP's neighbors, is in a better position to interpret Mr. Hogan's statement in light of past events. Can you imagine a "suit filed" story that does not identify the attorneys and quotes the respondent (defendent) and not the initiator (complainant)? I don't think Zimmerman-Reed refused an interview, and there were several named complaintants who might have been interviewed.

More disturbing was the tone. According to the story, citizens claimed MAC reneged on promises and contended that Northwest benefitted from funding changes. Then MAC spokesman Pat Hogan was indirectly quoted as saying homeowners weren‚t guaranteed full noise insulation. That "guarantee," according to the lawsuit, not only exists, it is an enforceable contract. The proof of that is perhaps the main point of the lawsuit.

Reporting that Hogan countered the claim seems like bias, not balance. And, MAC is not "spending $28 million to provide air conditioning for another 3,594 home" (sic); that is only an unfunded future project. It is a possibility perhaps, but it is not nearly as close to true as "(MAC) expects to complete ... insulation (of) another 165 homes."

To put all of this into better perspective, a deal was struck in the Legislature in 1996 allowing MAC to expand MSP under certain conditions, including a combination of noise abatement, compatible land use, and sound insulation around the constricted site. Other conditions included maintaining operational safety; providing for more airline competition; and conducting a thorough environmental impact study, establishing remedial programs, and attaining Federal, State, and local approval thereof. Many aspects of this deal were documented in the law itself, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision, and other public proceedings. The City suit and the class action hold that these make a contract to, and provide funding mechanisms for, "full" sound insulation of at least residential properties out to the 2005 High Use 60 DNL contour. In the ensuing years (1992 to 2002), MAC undertook the residential sound insulation program (SIP) at a rate of about 800 to 900 units per year. Circa 1997, a total SIP cost of $480 million was estimated based on various options and a State Commission Report.

That less than half of that amount might be "the most extensive airport noise abatement program in the (United States)" mostly demonstrates Northwest‚s determination to dominate our airport. If a new airport had been built instead, 400+ razed buildings and 10,000 or more residences would have had flight noise "abated" by at least 45 decibels (rather than 5 decibels) and less than 100 buildings in Dakota County would have been impacted. In short, neither the public agency, MAC, nor the nearby neighborhoods got much benefit from the compromise. But why should a quarter of a billion dollars in neighborhood benefits ˆ not only sound insulation but construction jobs and property tax valuations ˆ be diverted?

While the Star-Tribune editors were sleeping, MSP has been made noisier, more polluting, and more expensive, less safe, less competitive, and less accountable.

 
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