The South Burlington city council’s final Noise Compatibility Program recommendations have been submitted to Burlington International Airport. 

And according to airport Deputy Aviation Director Nic Longo, the airport agrees with the city’s call to ‘retain the housing stock,’ and apply for noise mitigation measures that do not involve razing houses.

“Most of what they recommended was always going to be a part of what we’re recommending,” Longo said of the council’s letter. 

The Noise Compatibility Program is part of a larger federal regulation that examines and minimizes noise from an airport. The airport and surrounding community stakeholders have worked closely together for about 18 months on a Technical Advisory Committee to draft recommendations for the program update. The final document is expected to be complete before the end of 2019, following a public forum and comment period. The city council recommendations will also be included as supporting material. The program is voluntary but can help airports obtain Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) support, including funds for noise mitigation efforts.

Those recommendations will also be based on data from a new Noise Exposure Map released last month based on the predicted noise levels of the F-35 military fighter jet program. The new jets are replacing the F-16 jets and will arrive in September at the Vermont Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport. 

The data revealed an increase in overall dwelling units that fall within a 65-decibel day-night average sound level (dB DNL): 2,640 dwelling units serving a total population of approximately 6,100 people, nearly triple the amount listed in 2015. The contour lines also showed that the number of affected homes in South Burlington have decreased, while neighboring municipalities, such as Winooski and Williston, saw noticeable increases. Specifically, the contours to the east and west shrunk, while the north and south contours expanded.

The Noise Exposure Map lists 823 dwelling units within the contours for South Burlington – 125 fewer dwelling units than the 948 listed in the previous maps.

But mitigation is weighing heavy on many residents’ minds. Over the course of several years up through 2018, roughly 200 South Burlington homes near the airport were razed due to noise mitigation efforts from the airport. Now, Longo says, the city’s housing stock, particularly through programs that pay for and install sound proofing insulation, are among the airport’s priorities. 

In its final recommendation letter, the city council asserted its aversion to razing homes and programs that involved one-time payments for homes without measures to mitigate noise. Under the homes within the 75 + DNL section, councilors removed a paragraph which gave a final resort option to remove homes. 

Those measures address block rounding to retain homes and assessments for sound insulation or purchase assurance. 

Block rounding refers to a practice if some homes in a neighborhood are eligible for the program (in the 65+ DNL zone) and others in the same area are not, the airport and FAA may come to an agreement to allow the entire area (i.e. street or block) to be eligible to avoid isolation and help humanize the situation.

The council first supports block rounding. If block rounding is not applicable or feasible, the council recommends individual house assessment to determine if sound insulation or purchase assurance options are possible. Under the purchase assurance program, the airport would buy an eligible resident’s home at fair market value, insulate it and return the home to the market for a new homeowner.

If those recommendations fail, the city would discuss other measures. The letter also included council members’ desire for a sound barrier, which would help dampen noise created by ground operations. 

“We’re only interested in supporting programs that actually protect the housing stock,” council chair Helen Riehle told The Other Paper. 

In the letter, councilors added a section under “Active Pursuit and Matching of FAA funds.” Here they called for the airport and its partners to cover any FAA noise compatibility funding matches as they have in the past, which would include the City of Burlington, which owns the airport. 

“FAA noise compatibility funding may require a financial match,” the council wrote. “These have historically been met by the airport and other partners and not by the affected property owners of the City of South Burlington. Under future programs, it is the city’s expectation that this practice will continue.”

The council also added a section called “Future Changes to Noise Exposure Maps.” Here they recommended that should future changes in airport operations call for changes to the Noise Exposure Maps, the Noise Compatibility Program should also be updated. This, they said, is to assure noise mitigation efforts match the needs of the community. 

Currently, airport administrators are at work compiling the Noise Exposure Map public comments, which will be sent to the FAA in July. They are also creating a spreadsheet answering the questions from residents, according to Longo. Afterwards, administrators will resume Noise Compatibility efforts. They’ll create a document for the FAA with recommendations from the airport, letters from local municipalities and public comments.

 According to Longo, comments from homeowners who are directly affected by increased airport noise will carry significant weight in the FAA’s decision-making. 

While Riehle didn’t want to generalize from a few conversations with residents, she said she has heard some concerns. 

“Frankly, they still don’t really trust the airport,” she said of residents she heard from, adding that while she felt airport communications with the public had improved, the “mistrust goes back a long way.”

Riehle encouraged residents to send their own mailings to the airport as well. 

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