Minneapolis Airport Noise Spurs Suburbs' Request for Seats on Noise Committee

Frustrated with the new — and now routine — racket of airplanes flying overhead, four southern suburbs on Wednesday requested seats on the airport's Noise Oversight Committee.

Apple Valley leaders in particular say the new north-south runway at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has shifted jet noise in the Twin Cities enough to warrant changes in how the Metropolitan Airports Commission handles noise problems and complaints.

Rosemount, Lakeville and Farmington also asked for representation on the MAC noise committee, although they all acknowledged their complaints were not as severe as Apple Valley's.

"We have concerned citizens calling us every day. We need to have an answer for them," Apple Valley's City Administrator Tom Lawell told members of the noise committee. "We think we are a community that should have standing on this committee."

But the cities with permanent seats on the noise committee balked at the request and appeared reluctant to vote to bring the newly affected suburbs on board. That's in part because under the committee's current bylaws only cities where average airport noise levels reach 65 decibels have permanent seats.

None of the four suburbs that wants to join has noise at or above this range. The MAC has projected sound levels in Apple Valley will not average above 60 decibels.

The MAC established the 12-member noise oversight committee in 2002 to bring airline industry representatives and community leaders together to discuss noise issues and make policy recommendations to the MAC.

Six airport users have a seat, as do the cities of Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington, Eagan and Mendota Heights. The cities of Burnsville, Inver Grove Heights, St. Paul and St. Louis Park rotate an annual "at-large" seat.

The noise oversight committee must remain represented equally by affected cities and the airline industry, and any changes to its makeup require a two-thirds vote, committee chairman and Bloomington City Council Member Vern Wilcox said.

He said he doubted the airline representatives would go along with any changes to its composition. "The chances are very, very slim," he said.

Cities also seemed reluctant to bring new members on board and expressed concern that adding members could dilute their authority. In addition, noise committee members don't want concerns over the new runway to overshadow noise problems at other runways.

Minneapolis, Eagan, Bloomington and Richfield sued the MAC last year for failing to provide as much soundproofing to homes as originally promised. A homeowners group also has filed a lawsuit.

The Eagan City Council went so far as to pass a resolution Tuesday advocating the committee's composition remain intact.

But noise complaints in Apple Valley and its southern neighbors have skyrocketed since the $800 million Runway 17/35 opened in October.

In November and December, for instance, Apple Valley residents logged 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively, of the airport's total noise complaints. To date, the runway's traffic has been at less than half what was predicted before it opened.

"(We) are experiencing the type of citizen concern that is consistent with those (cities) who have a permanent seat," Lawell said. "And we don't expect the situation to improve anytime soon."

The noise committee cities will discuss the matter up again Wednesday and will take any proposals to a full committee in March. The MAC board would then have to approve possible changes.

Meanwhile, the noise committee has asked the nonmember cities to join them in forming a group that meets every other month to speak as "one voice" for the entire metropolitan area regarding airport noise.

Meggen Lindsay can be reached at mlindsay@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5260.

"We know we still have our work cut out for us to get this seat," Apple Valley Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland said after the meeting Wednesday night.

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