Coalition Wants to Halt Texas Airport Expansion Until Noise Issues Can be Resolved

Members of a new grassroots coalition concerned about an increase in airplane traffic and noise above their homes say early next year they will contact neighbors in northwest Harris County neighborhoods who may be suffering in silence.

The West 45 Coalition is an offshoot of the larger Coalition for Homeowner Alliances Requiring Government Equity, which was formed by residents frustrated by noise and other problems after Bush Intercontinental Airport's northernmost runway opened near FM 1960 more than two years ago.

That group advocates a halt to airport expansion until noise issues are resolved. The Houston Airport System is nearing completion on a Bush Intercontinental Airport Master plan, which details airport expansion plans through 2025.

Linda Faulkner, an Olde Oaks resident and organization member who is spearheading the effort to develop the West 45 Coalition, said the offshoot group was formed to air concerns of residents in neighborhoods west of Interstate 45, including Spring, Klein, Cy-Fair and Tomball. These are communities that lie below the flight path of airplanes landing at the north runway.

"We feel it is important to show that the noise problem is not just associated with neighborhoods directly around the airport," said Faulkner. "We want to make more communities aware of what is going on (with airport noise issues). Ignorance is not bliss."

Faulkner said in January the West 45 Coalition will begin working on wording for a petition to be circulated in area neighborhoods. She said the group would start meeting once a month - probably the first Wednesday - with the time and location to be determined.

The group wants legislation passed requiring the Houston Airport System to implement noise abatement and mitigation procedures in all areas affected by airport and air traffic noise. This includes home buyouts in neighborhoods near runways, tree and berm buffers, and the redirection of air traffic over major highways or commercial areas rather than residential neighborhoods.

Richard Fernandez, the Houston Airport System's communications director, said many of the issues raised by residents - flight patterns, noise - are controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the Houston Airport System does investigate valid complaints submitted to its noise compliance office, and works with the FAA to lessen noise impacts on neighborhoods.

For example, Fernandez said, the airport system has decreased operations on the northernmost runway near FM 1960, and works with the FAA to restrict night - 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. - take-offs and landings on that airstrip.

"Most people who live around the airport realize the impacts when they moved into their homes," said Fernandez. "About 97 percent of complaints come from a handful of people."

Fernandez said there are national policies in place that require airports to purchase homes, or install soundproof equipment, when noise levels reach a certain limit in residential neighborhoods. Several homes southwest of the airport were part of a home buyout plan this year.

Residents who have issues, concerns, or who need additional information are asked to call the Houston Airport System's noise compliance office, said Jeff Cameron with the noise compliance office. The hotline number is 281-233-3900, or individuals can fill out a complaint form online at www.houstonairportsystem.org.

Faulkner said coalition members believe Houston airport planners should take another look at expansion projects outlined in the Bush Intercontinental master plan, and the effects on surrounding communities, before moving forward with any new construction.

Kent McLemore, assistant director in the Houston Airport System's planning division, said all of the projects outlined in that plan are demand driven. He said the plan is just the first step, and the Federal Aviation Administration would conduct an environmental impact study on all components of the plan before putting a stamp of approval on the document.

That environmental study would include a study of noise issues, and effects on surrounding neighborhoods and developments. Public comment and involvement, and public meetings, will be part of the process, McLemore said.

McLemore gave northwest Harris County chamber of commerce and business leaders a glimpse of the master plan at a meeting last week.

Major projects include: improvements and additions to the existing taxiway system to reduce congestion on the five existing runways (in the next five years); construction of a sixth runway south of the airport near Greens Road (in the next 10 years); construction of a seventh runway north of the airport in between the two existing runways south of FM 1960 (in the next 20 years); and construction of a new centralized Terminal F, which will replace terminals A, B and C (in the next 20 years). Those three terminals would be demolished, but D and E would remain.

McLemore said these projects, and many other airport improvements, will help accommodate the projected 68 million people who will come through the airport, and 880,000 flights in and out of the airport, each year by 2025. In 2005, about 35 million people, and 530,000 aircraft, used Bush Intercontinental Airport.

"Our goal is to have no more than four minutes average annual delay per aircraft," McLemore said.

Cy-Fair, Tomball and Houston Northwest chamber leaders said they supported the airport and its impact on Houston's economy.

"The airport is a vital part of our economy," said Darcy Mingoia, president of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce. "We want the airport to grow, but we want to be respectful of quality-of-life issues. I am glad a system is in place for residents to address noise issues."

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WEST 45 COALITION

For more information: E-mail Faulkner at roar102@sbcglobal.net. To contact the Houston Airport System's noise compliance office, call 281-233-3900 or go to www.houstonairportsystem.org. That Web site also has information on the Houston Airport System's Bush Intercontinental master plan.



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