Eagan, Minneapolis, Richfield offered $130 million to settle airport noiseproofing suit

The Metropolitan Airports Commission could spend an estimated $130 million to settle an airport-noise lawsuit filed by three cities and a housing agency.

The proposed settlement, which the MAC approved Monday, will be reviewed today for approval by the cities of Eagan, Minneapolis and Richfield.

"Right now, we're hopeful that all the parties will agree and that we will have a settlement agreement sometime (today)," Eagan City Administrator Tom Hedges said.

The lawsuit, filed by the cities and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority two years ago, alleges the MAC scaled back a 1996 noise-insulation plan to soundproof thousands of homes in those cities as part of expanding the MinneapolisSt. Paul International Airport.

The federal government requires the MAC, owner and operator of the airport, to fully soundproof homes where noise levels reach 65 decibels or higher, said MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan.

"We're going well beyond the federal standard," Hogan said.

The proposal includes four noise-mitigation programs.

It would give soundproofing improvements to about 432 single-family homes where noise levels reach 63 to 64 decibels. Those would generally include installing central air conditioning, repairing or replacing doors, insulating walls and attics and muffling roof vents and chimney treatments. The goal would be to reduce noise levels for those homes by an average of five decibels.

The proposal would also offer one of two packages to residents of 5,344 single-family homes where the noise levels reach 60 to 62 decibels. The first would give central air conditioning to an estimated 3,421 homes without it. Those residents also could get up to $4,000 to buy and install other noise-mitigation products and services provided by the MAC.

The second would provide up to $14,000 in soundproofing for homes in the 60- to 62-decibel range that already have central air conditioning or choose not to install it.

For an estimated 1,931 multifamily units where the noise levels reach 60 to 64 decibels, the proposal would provide wall-mounted air conditioners for those without air conditioning. The air conditioners would also come with an acoustical cover.

The proposal also would offer new owners of single-family homes soundproofing if the homes' previous owners had chosen not to accept those improvements from the MAC.

If the total costs of soundproofing those homes were less than $7 million, the funds left over would be used to reimburse about 1,835 single-family homeowners who had noise-mitigation products installed by the MAC, according to a 2005 report regarding homes with 60- to 65-decibel noise levels. The rest would be divided among that group of homes.

The cities also would receive $2.5 million in attorney's fees in the settlement.

Those who sell their single-family houses within two years of getting the noise mitigation could be required to reimburse the MAC for 25 percent of the costs - up to $3,500 per home. "We want to discourage profiteering by individuals who might otherwise purchase homes in the area simply to receive the MAC improvements," commission Chairman Jack Lanners said in a statement released Monday.

The MAC plans to pay the $130 million using airline fees for repairs and maintenance, airport revenue from parking and concessions and other user fees.

In June, the MAC offered to settle a class-action suit by homeowners for an estimated $65 million for central air conditioning and other soundproofing improvements for 4,413 homes in Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan where the noise levels reach 60 to 64 decibels. Most of those homes are in Minneapolis.

The MAC is including those homes in its latest settlement offer. Carolyn Anderson, a lawyer for the homeowners, said she supports the new settlement.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak also backed the proposal.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Hennepin County District Court must also approve the settlement.

"There are still a number of steps that need to happen before this becomes a reality, but today was certainly an important step toward getting the issue settled," Hogan said.

Maricella Miranda can be reached at mmiranda@pioneer press.com or 651-228-5421.

Online: See the Metropolitan Airports Commission Web site at macnoise.com/maps to see whether a proposed $130 million airport noise lawsuit settlement could affect your home.