Dave Crandall, principal consultant of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc.(HMMH), outlines the sound mapping process for the 2015 and 2020 Noise Exposure Maps. PHOTO: Lee Krohn

Examining the Unknown for Residents of Airport Neighborhood

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Thursday December 08, 2016

Following a moderately contentious city council meeting in November, the Burlington International Airport hosted its second Sound Mitigation Committee meeting December 5 to pick up where it left off regarding FAA programs and the future of the airport neighborhood.

It was at the first Sound Mitigation Committee meeting in September where South Burlington representatives learned that the airport had federal funds nearly lined up for an updated Home Buyout Program and updated Noise Compatibility Program. By the end of September, the Federal Aviation Administration had officially approved each program with a $16 million grant and $405,000 grant respectively.

An additional 13 homes, including the cottages on the northern side of Kirby Road, have been added to the acquisition program for a total of 39 eligible homes. The Noise Compatibility Program (NCP), which was last updated in 2008, currently includes the Land Acquisition and Relocation Program in the 65 and higher DNL; an updated NCP could include a wide range of new land use options, including the widely-discussed sound insulation program.

Since then, South Burlington has held an informational meeting for affected residents. There was also a city council meeting where airport officials and consultants fielded questions about program details. While many questions were addressed in an FAQ, which is now available online on the airport’s website, the fate of some residents’ homes and options were still left unanswered.

Thus, on Dec. 5, South Burlington representatives with a seat at the Sound Mitigation Committee table made certain to revisit those questions.

“We’re starting to better understand the planning around the programs that come after acquisition,” City Manager Kevin Dorn said after sitting through Noise Compatibility Program and sound mapping process presentations that evening. However, “one of the areas of greatest anxiety for South Burlington residents,” about the future has not adequately been addressed, he said.

The Vermont Air National Guard is expected to receive  F-35 fighter jets in the fall of 2019, which is expected to trigger the process for a new Noise Exposure Map (like the Noise Compatibility Program, the Noise Exposure Map is another part of the FAA’s 14 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 150 Program). Not knowing the extent of change in noise, and how the contours on the map will shift has left residents in limbo.

“How can you run the data to find where the line is going to be in 2019?” Dorn asked.

“For us [the city], the question is the uncertainty in the area that is marginally along the current 65 line. It would be enormously helpful to the homeowners in those areas if they had a close, predicted approximation of where that new line would be in three or four years. Again, not for you guys [the airport] to use it because you can’t get the money for it, but for our community to know what it will look like.”

Paul Conner, South Burlington’s director of planning and zoning, provided another example of how the uncertainty of it all affects decision-making.

“I’ve been approached by a large land owner in the area seeking a zoning change to allow for residential,” he explained. “It’s outside the 65 line, and until we know what the next line is based on knowing there’s a new aircraft coming in three years, I can’t comfortably respond to their request.”

Resident George Maille, who was an active member of the Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee and chair of its Noise Subcommittee, explained that it may be possible.

“All the data that they’ve used is public data,” he said. “So under the state public record law, we can have it. Then we can import it because you can buy the integrated noise model, you can get the data–that’s free–then you need the experience and intelligence to apply the F-35 noise performance matrix and plug that puppy in.”

“Are there inherent risks in doing that? Yes, because you are making significant assumptions,” Maille added. Dorn said that if such a map can be created for community use, they would need a disclaimer labeling it as a prediction.

“Let’s agree to continue talking about this,” Director of Aviation Gene Richards said. “We will reach out to the FAA, let them know the request that was made, and ask their opinion if there’s any other way to do what we’re doing. Say, ‘We understand your procedures, but this is a huge concern, a potential huge impact on the community, and we’d like to know, would you entertain helping us out?’”

Preceding the conversation of a map for the community, the airport arranged presentations from their consultants, Jones Payne Group and HMMH.

Jones Payne Group is assisting with the home buyout program and relocation services as well as updating the Noise Compatibility Program. Sarah Degutis, Jones Payne Group project manager, said work will commence “any day now,” for the Noise Compatibility Program in December 2016. She also reviewed the details of the Sound Insulation Program, one of the offerings under the Noise Compatibility Program which is expected to start in 2018 after the home buyout process has been completed.

The updated Noise Compatibility Program study will focus on land use measures; it currently includes land acquisition and relocation, but the Noise Compatibility Program also provides opportunity for sound insulation, sales assistance, purchase assurance, easement acquisition for new development, and real estate disclosure. It will be based on 2020 noise contour and incorporate community feedback. Jones Payne Group aims to complete the study by late summer of 2017 and submit the recommended NCP options to the FAA, which will have 180 days to review it.

Several options require that in exchange for sound mitigation homeowners must grant an avigation easement, therefore giving the right of overflight in the airspace above, in the vicinity of a particular property, including the right to create noise and other effects resulting in lawful operation of aircraft. The airport has not drafted language for the easement yet but Richards said they will do their due diligence to make it agreeable for all parties.

Dave Crandall of HMMH delivered the second presentation which outlined the sound mapping process for the 2015 and 2020 Noise Exposure Maps. These maps were introduced at a November 2015 public presentation. Furthermore, he reviewed the history with the FAA for past maps and Noise Compatibility Program updates and showed various published contours over the years.

All presentations and documents shared at the Sound Mitigation Committee meetings can be found online at www.btv.aero under the “community” tab. These meetings run quarterly and are open to the public. Representatives of the airport, affected municipalities, the Vermont Air National Guard and Vermont Army National Guard, FAA Air Traffic Control, Heritage Aviation and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation make up the committee, which is intended to make for comprehensive conversations.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent