Thursday August 22, 2013
In an effort to mend its relationship with the City of South Burlington, Burlington International Airport provided an informational update at the SB City Council meeting held at Chamberlin School Monday, August 19. In return, South Burlington residents epitomized Vermont activism with a solid turn out as they awaited answers about their homes, their neighbors, and their future.
South Burlington houses one of the state’s largest economic drivers, the Burlington International Airport. However, its ownership is in the City of Burlington’s hands.
Questions still revolve around the FAA Home Buy-Out Program, demolition of homes, and the overall implications of the possible basing of the F-35. Airport representation was present to address the Chamberlin neighborhood residents, who live in the areas most affected.
Gene Richards, director of aviation at the Burlington International Airport, presented information to the public with the help of fellow airport staff members Robert McEwing, director of planning and development; Kelly Colling, director of operations; and Ryan Betcher, marketing, leasing.Rekindling the relationship is high on Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s list, Richards said. The airport will do everything it can to be “the best neighbor.”
Karen Paul, former chair of the Airport Strategic Planning Committee, Burlington City Councilor, and member of the Finance Board, agreed with Richards that the airport will work with the City of South Burlington to find a respectful resolution. She thanked Council Chair Pam Mackenzie and Councilor Rosanne Greco for their input during the airport Strategic Planning Committee’s existence and noted that a resolution holds promise for all.
“The airport cannot thrive without a strong relationship with the City of South Burlington,” she said. “It’s just really that simple. We can’t be as great as we can be without having a great relationship with the city of South Burlington...We need to be on the same side.”
When McEwing took the spotlight, he began with a review focused on the local history of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). In 1988, the FAA conducted an FAR Part 150 Noise Study*. After the data had been compiled, exposure maps were made, and were first approved by the FAA in 1990. Additionally, the FAA created a Noise Mitigation Program which is used to assess the noise, locate its impact, and then work to mitigate the noise. One way BIA addressed this was by moving one of the taxiways further away from a residential area.
McEwing then shifted gears and provided an overview of the FAA Home Buy-Out Program. The BIA began buying homes in 1992. Since that time, the airport’s acquired 130 homes, 113 of which were purchased between 1992-2012. The airport also purchased 17 buildings for airport improvements. Then, in 2008, an updated version of the Noise Compatibility Program** was amended so that land acquisition could be available for homes in the 65 DNL contour rather than the original 70 DNL. The airport proceeded to set up a five-year program with the FAA which allowed the airport to purchase double the home buyouts a year; this program ended in Fiscal Year 2012. Entering FY13, the program dropped back to two to three house purchases per year.
With that, McEwing presented a map of the Noise Compatibility Program, and identified homes via color code. It was determined that 28 homes were eligible (displayed in green on map) for buyout, though it is not guaranteed that government money will be available to pay for them. He also added that the airport’s master plan, Vision 2030 Master Plan, is just a roadmap, and that nothing is set in stone.
In terms of homes to be demolished, about 61 empty homes are slated for demolition, but many are still under litigation after resident George Maille appealed the Development Review Board’s decision to approve the demolition. These homes will likely be untouchable for a year, McEwing said. Maille, a resident of Logwood Rd., later explained that his decision to file a lawsuit was not a “feeble attempt” to stop the airport from demolishing them, but rather the decision was rooted in giving “people the process they deserve.”
According to McEwing and Richards, there are approximately 80 homes that are empty or will soon be empty. Some will be demolished and others could be relocated. This does not include the 28 homes that are not yet purchased but are eligible.
Although the BIA representatives generally finished on a positive beat, there were still several concerned citizens, the majority of whom were in opposition of the F-35 beddown.
For instance, one resident hoped for new information. She has been a resident in the affected area for 23 years. She is surrounded by vacant homes, and she’s experienced a high volume of break-ins and vandalism. Police enforcement should visit the area more frequently, she said.
Maille also addressed that there needed to be a way to track noise complaints, because as of now, the airport does not have a proper process set-up. Jean Boudeau echoed this notion, stating that there is no one to field the noise complaints.
Resident Linus Leavens offered some math for economic thought: homes lose value per decibel increase, and given his $250,000 home value in the area, his “personal loss could be $50,000 which represents the entire current equity of my single family home saved for my retirement,” he explained. “If this happens to 400 homes in the airport neighborhood…[this] represents a loss of property value of $20 million, approximately the entire amount that the airport’s assessed at.”
A number of residents spoke for the remainder of the comment period, addressing topics ranging from vulnerable individuals (children, disabled persons, elderly, students, refugees, etc.) to berms and property taxes--many voices were heard. Some speakers felt that a number of questions still remain unanswered. Others wondered when they would find out if their home is on the list of properties eligible for future buyout.
Council Chair Pam Mackenzie assured the audience that all comments have been documented and will be sent to the airport, and that a follow up meeting will be scheduled in the future.
Richards listened during the public comment period and remained available after the meeting for individual discussion.
“It was not a bad meeting.” Richards said. “It was just a meeting with a lot of emotion...I can’t feel what people feel unless I hear it. I heard it and I’m doing the best I can.”
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent