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

As seen in Southside Pride
July 2009

A Peculiar Response By City Staff

Many thanks to the Southside Pride for publishing the article Watchdog Group Wants Attention To Pending MSP Runway Closure in the May edition. The closing of the other main runway for weeks in 2007 didn‚t go well at all. Poor planning, some weather interruptions, and air traffic control delays resulted in noisier-than-projected days, and congestion at the airport with passengers stranded at MSP or confined to aircraft for hours on the ground.

Peculiarly, the May article and parts of my messages to the Minneapolis City Council were criticized by Merland Otto, the city airport planner. In a message to me, Dan Boivin, four City Council Members, and Erica Prosser, an aide to Mayor Rybak, Mr. Otto disagreed with just about every paragraph in the article -- and every topic we suggested for the City-MAC-FAA public meeting we were seeking.

Although, as we said, Minneapolis received the lion‚s share of additional overflights that affected new and unexpected neighborhoods and activities in 2007, city authorities and elected officials were passive, at best, this time. Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, the City Delegate to the MSP Noise Oversight Committee (NOC), said last Fall that she would work at NOC in two ways: try to limit noise exposure, even for temporary overflights (as well as publicizing them), and not to pretend that NOC had any say, or could make any informed recommendations, about safety or air pollution.

As plans were being slowly revealed to NOC, predictions of noise and complaints arising from temporary operations and the usual hub rates seemed way too low. The reduced safe capacity at MSP notwithstanding, about 500 daily overflights in SW Minneapolis (200 more than usual), 300 or more flights over south-central Minneapolis using the new runway "backward," and 10 to 80 flights over neighborhoods along the Mississippi River toward SE Minneapolis are planned for weeks on end. Not only will this be annoying, it clearly increases the number of people, homes, schools, and sensitive businesses impacted, that is noise exposure. A bevy of phone calls and Email messages have been sent in advance complaint, some demanding City action.

There was no response from the Mayor's office or his MAC Representative. Ms. Glidden‚s invitation to MAC and FAA to discuss operations, overflight noise and pollution, and local passenger concerns seems to be stymied.

What Mr. Otto did not mention was safety. In 2007, Carl Rydeen, then the acting FAA Air Traffic Control Tower Manager, said it was "perfectly safe" to maintain 140 to 150 operations per hour at MSP during peak hours with a main runway closed. If this were so, there was no need to build the new runway, which offers less safe capacity than either of the parallels. (Editor's Note: The referenced article in May issue dealt with safety prominently.)

What Mr. Otto offered as opinion or related facts could be debated if there were a public meeting, but there isn‚t going to be one unless there is a turn-about at City Hall. I take strong exception to two points because Mr. Otto implies Mayor or Council policy positions that haven‚t been stated or dated.

Is it policy to limit Council Member questions of, and to exclude the public from commenting on, the MAC or FAA representations? Mr. Otto wrote "Neither MAC nor FAA is obligated to have separate presentations to communities." (Emphasis added.) By this he meant they won't openly meet with the Council, the Mayor, or a Council committee for discussion? Council Member Benson submitted several questions to MAC, asking that they been answered at the meeting.

The public can attend the committee meeting July 21, 9:45 AM in the City Council Chamber, but residents and businesses hoping for recognition and attention may not be invited to comment or ask questions. Come, and if the Committee refuses to hear your concerns, learn from that.

A committee sponsoring a presentation so it can be webcast while its members sit and politely listen? This was Mr. Otto's recommended benefit, more people told, fewer listened to. No Council committee should substitute a presentation for a committee's usual purpose of attaining relevant information for conducting City business and protecting the public interest. MAC‚s tortured rationale --that informing the public what has already been decided, without any public discussion of alternatives -- is insufficiently transparent.

Where, and how low, jets fly doesn‚t change noise impacts or air pollution? Mr. Otto wrote "There is no greater burden of noise or pollution associated with the temporary change of runway use. The distribution does change but since air traffic is no greater, there is no significantly added (noise exposure) burden on a temporary basis during periods of construction." (Emphasis added.)

It used to matter a lot. There have been disagreements about noise exposure maps for about three decades and the City went so far as sue the MAC over noise exposure mitigation. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent for insulation and removal of buildings due to exposure to noise levels said to be based on the number of annual overflights and usual routes and altitudes. Mr. Otto implies the City is content that 2,000 to 3,000 added flights per week for several weeks over Minneapolis are insignificant. On an annualized basis this is 50 times the annual threshold for re-mapping, and about 7 times the threshold for a 5-year period, according to Federal regulation CFR14 Part 150.

Jim Spensley,
President, South Metro Airport Action Council

The MAC presentation will be at the Transportation and Public Works Committee, July 21, 9:45 AM, Council Chambers, City Hall.

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