South Burlington City Councilors invited Burlington International Airport (BIA) representatives and the airport’s consultants to City Hall on Monday evening to directly address questions regarding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Home Buyout Program and Noise Compatibility Program (NCP).
Anxious about the future of their homes and their neighborhood, a crowded room of residents had their full attention honed on BIA’s Director of Aviation Gene Richards and Director of Planning and Development Nic Longo as they answered questions specific to these programs.
At their side were representatives of Jones Payne Group, the consultant assisting the airport with the home buyout program and updating the Noise Compatibility Program. David Crandall, principal consultant from Harris Miller Miller & Hanson (HMMH) had a seat at the table as well; the airport hired HMMH to assist with the 2015 and 2020 Noise Exposure Maps (NEM) that were updated and shared publically a year ago.
Home Buyout Program
The purpose of the evening’s discussion harks back to September, when South Burlington residents first learned of an FAA approval for an estimated $14 million Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant for the voluntary Home Buyout Program, which now includes a total of 39 eligible homes.
Of those homes, 26 were already eligible for buyout. Nearly 200 homes in the neighborhood have already been removed in FAA buyout programs. The update reveals 13 additional homes as part of the program; among them are the new cottages on the north side of Kirby Road--more of the city’s affordable housing stock. The buyout program is projected to take about two years.
Jones Payne Group will be responsible for reaching out to eligible homeowners regarding the program. From there, homeowners will have 30 days to make a decision and 90 days to relocate if they decide to opt in. This timeframe, paired with the fact that a new Noise Exposure Map will be triggered with the arrival of the F-35s in 2019, has left Chamberlin neighborhood residents worried about making a hasty decision with change on the way.
Will the buyouts truly be over? Carmine Sargent, resident of Elizabeth Street and Chair of the former Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee equated the uncertainly with the heart-wrenching experience of cancer.
“Will the cure ever really be final or will we be waiting for the next return?” she asked. “We don’t explore options enough.”
For those with the opportunity to sell, the question of how much their home will be worth after surrounding homes have been sold is real and daunting, according to Judy Nolin of South Henry Court.
“This is a house we didn’t want to move from. We constantly put in upgrades. We were told they weren’t going to do any more and now after we buy windows…what’s going to keep happening?”
“It seems to me you’re living in the sacrifice zone,” said Robin Loyd, a Burlington resident. “You don’t really know what your sacrifices will be in the future.”
“We’ve contributed a great deal to this home buyout...was it worth it?” asked councilor Meaghan Emery. “Affordable housing is important to our region, if we’re giving these up, my question is ‘why?’”
The city captured similar sentiments and questions at an informational community meeting on Oct. 14. All five councilors were present and later held a special council meeting where they crafted specific questions for the airport; the airport responded to these questions via email and the answers were shared at Monday’s meeting.
“Everyone is sensitive to this program,” Richards said, explaining that the airport had a “heart to heart” with the FAA stating that “we really didn’t have any desire to purchase any more homes.”
Richards confirmed that the homes and land were not being purchased to enable a direct road connection to the interstate as referred to in the airport’s 2030 Master Plan. The Master Plan will be revised around 2020.
The airport must complete the home buyout program first before transitioning to a sound mitigation program under an updated Noise Compatibility Program (NCP), according to the FAA. If not all the money is expended on buyouts, the airport can apply to amend the grant to use the funds toward another solution.
Noise Compatibility Program
Having also received an FAA $405,000 AIP grant to update its Noise Compatibility Program to identify how to mitigate noise in the 65 DNL (day-night average sound level) and higher noise contour, the airport–with services from Jones Payne Group–is hoping to provide more land use options to airport neighbors. The last Noise Compatibility Program was updated in 2008 to include only land acquisition and relocation; a new program would explore more options including, but not limited to, sound insulation, sales assistance, purchase assurance, easement acquisition for new development, and real estate disclosure. Diane Bryant Carter, vice president of Jones Payne Group, went through the details of each option.
For the sound insulation land use measures, the homes must be assessed, and existing interior noise level must be above 45 dB DNL to qualify. Once homes are approved, they will receive acoustical windows and doors in exchange for an aviation easement. The improvements are aimed to reduce the noise level to 45 dB DNL. Chamberlin School can also be assessed for the program and be treated the same as residential under this option.
“This isn’t South Burlington’s program or Burlington’s program, it’s the community’s program,” Richards said.
Linus Leavens Jr. of Patchen Road pointed out that several options require that in exchange for sound mitigation homeowners must grant an avigation easement, which would give 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 received avigation easements before, therefore it will need to draft language and have it vetted by South Burlington and Burlington, Bryant Carter explained.
In order to prevent isolation or disparity in the surrounding neighborhood, the airport also hopes to include a “humanized” contour in the Noise Compatibility Program study for the purpose of homes to receive noise mitigation.
Jones Payne Group will begin the process for a Noise Compatibility study in December. It will be based on 2020 noise contour and incorporate community feedback. They hope to have the study finished by late summer of 2017 and submit the recommended NCP options to the FAA, which will have 180 days to review it.
Both the Noise Compatibility Program and the Noise Exposure Maps (used to depict current and projected aircraft noise) are two parts that comprise the FAA’s 14 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 150.
Communication and Community Concern
Councilors commented that the city and residents felt blindsided by the airport’s lack of transparency with the sudden approval of the two grants. Even though the expediency of the grants came as a result of the federal fiscal year coming to a close, they felt that the city and affected residents should have received a heads up.
“In any relationship, it goes both ways,” a frustrated Richards said in defense of the airport’s communication track record. “It’s been anything but ridiculous to work with you guys.”
In order to eliminate any “bad blood,” both parties were in agreement to work together to prevent more surprise scenarios.
“What should we be doing differently to better collaborate?” Councilor Tom Chittenden asked. Richards said the airport, in its commitment to improving communication, is open to sharing any tools the city deems helpful and that the “door is wide open.”
The Airport Sound Mitigation Committee meetings will provide an opportunity for stronger communication. The group–which consists of airport representatives, affected municipalities, the Vermont Air National Guard and Vermont Army National Guard, FAA Air Traffic Control, Heritage Aviation and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation–meets quarterly and is open to the public.
For more information about the home buyout program, Noise Compatibility Program, answers to frequently-asked questions, and other airport updates, visit www.btv.aero under the Chamberlin Neighborhood Info tab.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold,Correspondent