In the first two months after the Twin Cities airport's new runway opened, neighbors' complaints about jet noise nearly tripled compared with the same period a year earlier — and they continue to pile up in January.
People living in Eagan, Apple Valley and Burnsville have borne the brunt of the overhead rumble, filing many of the approximately 9,000 complaints the Metropolitan Airports Commission has logged since Nov. 1. More than 5,550 of those gripes were specific to the new Runway 17/35.
And the din is certain to get worse.
Although the north-south runway at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was projected to handle 37 percent of all departures and 16.5 percent of arrivals, its actual traffic has been less than half what officials predicted. In December, for instance, just 8 percent of the arriving planes and 12 percent of those taking off used the new runway, which parallels Cedar Avenue.
The runway's opening does mean less noise for Minneapolis and inner-ring suburbs like Mendota Heights and Inver Grove Heights, but it's been a shock to communities with historically low noise levels.
Apple Valley Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland said the runway's opening has, literally, altered the landscape of her suburb.
"Life has changed," she said. "We know none of the homes here sit within the airport's (high-decibel areas that qualify for MAC-paid home soundproofing), but it sure feels that way. It's loud."
Apple Valley homeowner Mark Ochs said he realized what he was in for the day the planes started flying.
"I'm looking out my kitchen window now, and I can see the landing lights just above us. They are right on top of our house," Ochs said Monday night. "It's just been a nightmare."
Those who live under the flight paths have similar complaints, according to the MAC, with the frequency and location of overhead flights topping the list. But the south suburban air traffic noise is not as deafening as it is in Minneapolis because the cities are farther away from the runway and planes are at higher altitudes.
"They seem pretty low to me, though," said Sandy Flategraff, who is Ochs' neighbor. "You can really hear it in the house. And we just got new windows."
The Apple Valley resident said it's irritating because Minneapolis residents knew what they were getting when they moved next to the airport.
"We've lived here for more than 18 years," she said. "We never expected to hear airplane noise. It's been frustrating."
Despite the shock to residents, city and MAC officials say the volume and nature of the complaints largely have mirrored their expectations. And, they say, the calls have slowed since the runway opened Oct. 27.
"We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best," said Melissa Scovronski, who handles complaints for the MAC's aviation noise programs. The agency held some 50 community meetings before unveiling the runway.
But Hamann-Roland still fields calls from unhappy residents and said it would be easier to respond if the city had more formal standing with the MAC. She and the City Council have tried for months to secure a seat on the MAC's Noise Oversight Committee, which makes policy recommendations to the agency.
Hamann-Roland, along with other suburban leaders, will make her pitch to join the committee in early February. She said she believes that representation will be even more critical as warm weather nears. So do residents.
"This all happened after we were through being outside for the year," said Steve Ebersole, who lives near Ochs in the city's northern Briar Oaks subdivision. "I can't imagine what it will be like when we want to be out on our deck this summer."
Ebersole said he routinely files complaints with the MAC when the planes are flying — a pattern MAC officials are braced to see worsen.
"We haven't actually had as many calls as I expected, but April is the beginning of what we call the open-window season," Scovronski said.
South metro residents are listening to hear if the roar of jet engines overhead will disrupt their previously quiet neighborhoods.
The city will sign on with five others that share one "at-large" seat on the committee, which reviews noise problems and complaints.
An out-of-state consultant will gauge the existing noise levels in the city before a new runway opens this fall.
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.