A panel of experts answer questions about airport noise mitigation at Burlington International Airport Thursday, February 16. Photo: lee krohn

Long Road Ahead for Airport Noise Mitigation: $57M Spent in New England’s Largest FAA Sound Program

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Thursday February 23, 2017

After losing nearly 200 homes to airport buy-outs and demolition, and with 39 more homes eligible in the current buy-out program as well as 900 homes identified in the most recent sound map, South Burlington is on a quest to find answers to to the ongoing challenges of airport noise.

City councilors, city staff, members of the former Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee (CNAPC), and residents were among more than 70 people in attendance as the Burlington International Airport (BIA) hosted a sound mitigation Q&A session on February 16. A panel of experts was present to field written questions from the audience about noise maps, and home buyout, land use, and compatibility programs.


The Q&A session follows a series of meetings the city council has held regarding South Burlington’s relationship with the airport, as well as the direct effects that ongoing airport programs have on the Chamberlin neighborhood and the city at-large, namely the existing land acquisition program and the potential sound mitigation program available once home buyouts have been completed.

Last month council approved a resolution challenging the airport’s Land Inventory Reuse Plan and buyout program, and stressed the need for the FAA and BIA to include South Burlington in any decision-making process that affects its residents and the city’s affordable housing stock.

Earlier in January a letter was submitted to the FAA requesting funding resources to conduct noise modeling with F-35 fighter jet data to better inform homeowners and the city of any potential contour shifts prior to their 2019 arrival; this request was denied.


Last Thursday, the FAA received inquiries about how the F-35s will affect noise contours in the Noise Exposure Maps (NEMs), which falls under Part 150. If the questions weren’t about contours, they were about F-35 operations, quality of life, sound barriers beyond insulation, and communication between municipalities, the airport and the FAA.

“I get the impression that a lot of the questions are going to be about the F-35 tonight,” said FAA’s Richard Doucette as he sifted through the public comment forms collected from the audience. Doucette is an Environmental Program Manager in the Planning and Program Branch under the New England Region Airports Division.

Doucette answered the majority of the submissions, but others joined him on the panel, including BIA’s Director of Planning and Development Nicolas Longo, Diane Carter of Jones Payne Group (consultant for current and future Noise Compatibility Programs), David Crandall of HMMH (consultant involved with Noise Exposure Maps) Col. Patrick Guinee (VTANG Wing Commander) and Col. Dave Smith (VTANG Vice Wing Commander), and Col. John Johnston of the Vermont Army National Guard.

In response to questions about the timing of the maps, Longo said, “We want to make sure we’re producing the most useful map possible. Right now we’ve worked with Richard [Doucette] to produce this in our capital plan for a 2018 grant, and we’ll continue to work with Richard to see when the most effective year would be, he explained.

“Right now we’re planning on doing it next year. The earliest we could do it is this year, and it takes many months to produce it. You wouldn’t see it until next year,” Doucette confirmed. “The government doesn’t move quickly,” he said.

“There’s data in the [Department of Defense’s Environmental Impact Study] EIS that was based on the limited info on the F-35 they had at that time,” he added. “As they gain more experience flying it, the data they have available will improve, but the data is somewhat limited because it’s new. It may be about 10 decibels louder than the F-16s based on flight simulation data.”

The F-35 is currently being flown in in Utah, Arizona, and Florida.

According to the FAA under the Airports Division, the office awards $3.5 billion in airport grants each year. The money that helps fund these projects comes from a trust fund funded by a tax on fuel and a fee on airline fees, Doucette said. The money builds up, and Congress dishes the money out. The New England region does between 100-150 grants per year. Noise mitigation and environmental mitigation accounts for about a third of the money every year, and there is competition for it nationwide.

“I went into our database, and the total amount of dollars the FAA has given Burlington for noise mitigation since the start of the program in the mid 80’s was $57 million,” Doucette announced.

Those monies have been used for updating the Noise Compatibility Program and Noise Exposure Maps, and it has also accounted for close to 200 acquired homes. There are still approximately 900 homes that are eligible with today’s noise.

“I was shocked by how the noise contour grew,” he said. “The noise mitigation program here in one day went from a relatively small program to the biggest one in New England. That’s how much nosier it got, and we quickly ramped up and provided as much money as we could to mitigate that noise.”

As for berms, walls, and other sound barriers, nothing can be done since it is not covered under the current Noise Compatibility Program, Doucette said. The FAA can fund these structures if they’re in the updated NCP, but “they’re typically not effective because sound will skip over the homes unless the home is next to the barrier or the aircraft is right next to the barrier. Otherwise, you have to build it very tall and many people don’t want to live next to a 50 or 100-foot high wall.”

The bottom line is that there is no quick or easy solution for mitigating noise.
In response to whether or not the F-35s will be using afterburner when they arrive in Burlington, Col. Guinee said they would, but that it would be minimal: five percent of all takeoffs are projected to use afterburner.

For homeowners wondering about the state of avigation easements attached to land use opt-ins for the NCP, BIA does not have specific language crafted yet and will work with South Burlington to come to a written agreement, Longo said. The FAA does not require avigation agreements, so this would be between the home owner and the airport, not the FAA.

More Opportunities for Feedback

Longo and Richards confirmed that there will be more opportunities to share public feedback.

Over the next 12-18 months, the airport will be holding more public meetings to gauge community input regarding preferred land use measures while concurrently finishing up with voluntary land acquisition and relocation, a condition BIA must adhere to before it can receive funding for the NCP.

The Airport’s Sound Mitigation Committee will meet quarterly; the next meeting is scheduled tentatively for March with additional information coming soon. There will be another six public meetings regarding the NCP and about eight meetings with an advisory committee (likely many from the Sound Mitigation Committee), Longo said. Dates are yet to be determined.

The questions and answers from the FAA meeting will be transcribed on www.btv.aero under the “Community” link at the top of the site. A video of the meeting is also available for public viewing.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent