Summer Runway Repairs Will Send Hundreds of Flights over Downtown Minneapolis

More than 600 incoming flights a day will fly over downtown Minneapolis and a string of neighborhoods to the south during the next two summers as runway repairs temporarily shift landing patterns at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The changes, which were approved last month by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), will divert flights over several neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul - some that typically experience little or no airport noise. Under the plan, inbound flights over St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood will increase from fewer than 10 a day to 134.

Airport officials said the repairs to a 1960s-era section of runway will begin in mid-August and go through mid-October, and also could mean significant delays for airline passengers.

Though delays at the airport normally average less than four minutes, MAC documents estimate the runway repairs would likely mean delays ranging from nine to 28 minutes.

"There's never a good time" for repairs, said Tom Foley, a MAC member representing St. Paul and some of its northern suburbs.

Airport officials said the runway repairs will provide some temporary noise relief to Eagan, Mendota Heights and Richfield. But the reductions will be relatively minor because a second runway parallel to the closed runway will still be open, the officials said.

The biggest change will come over downtown Minneapolis. Though there are currently no incoming flights over downtown, airport officials said 601 inbound flights will queue up daily over downtown during the repairs, gliding toward landings over a corridor in south Minneapolis that roughly follows Cedar Avenue S. Airport officials said a separate set of runway repairs in 2008 will have the same impact.

Some in for a (noisy) surprise

"I think it's going to be a problem, because you're going to get a lot of people who have not experienced noise [before]," said Daniel Boivin, another MAC member representing Minneapolis. "What I get concerned about is people planning back-yard wedding ceremonies or parties.

"I'm not happy with it," said Boivin, who said the airport had just finished a record year for noise complaints. "There's not much you can do about it."

Boivin said many noise activists believe they were promised that the airport's Runway 17 - the one that will handle flights coming in over downtown Minneapolis - would only be used for such flights during weather emergencies. But, he said, airport officials are allowed to divert the flights during runway repairs, too.

Noticeable south of Lake St.

Minneapolis City Council Member Scott Benson agreed that some Minneapolis neighborhoods that are not used to constant jet noise are likely to hear and see plenty of airplanes come summer.

"I would expect that once you get south of Lake Street, they are going to be fairly noticeable," he said.

Benson said he will ask the city attorney's office to review whether the new landing path complies with an agreement between the city and the Airports Commission restricting air traffic on Runway 17. But he conceded that loopholes in the agreement probably allow the temporary change in landing patterns.

MAC spokesman Pat Hogan said the repairs will take about two months, and are coming at a time when airline traffic is down.

`Potential safety risk'

This summer's $17.5 million project, according to a commission memo, will repair a 2,600-foot section of Runway 12R-30L that was built in the 1960s and has "been a constant maintenance problem and potential safety risk," Hogan said.

In Highland Park, James Janssen already is bracing for a noisy summer. He said his home sits on high ground, directly below the approach path. "You can smell the jet fuel," he said of the planes that now swoop over his house. "It is loud. They are right on my roof.

The noise is at its worst at night, he said, when late-arriving cargo planes rumble into the airport. He said he has complained to the Airports Commission as late as 2 a.m. "That is when we lose it," he said. "It wakes up the little children on the block.''

Janssen added that he may head to the lake for some peace and quiet.

As long as it's not Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, said George Jelatis, chairman of the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association. The popular lake and surrounding recreation area are under the temporary flight pattern and can expect 601 planes each day approaching from downtown Minneapolis.

"A lot of that is going to be over the park, which is used by people all over the city," said Jelatis. "There will be disruption of outdoor activities."

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