Tulsa, Okla., Airport Noise Program to Reopen in January

Nov. 16--A $40 million aircraft noise mitigation program at Tulsa International Airport that was suspended in July should be operating again in January, airport officials said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, an executive of Cinnabar Service Co., the Tulsa firm that managed the noise insulation program for the past five years, said Cinnabar and the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust apparently are headed to court over $651,756.83 in unpaid noise program invoices.

"We did the work under contract and under their direction and supervision," said Bob Parmele, Cinnabar president. "I think we're going to get paid. We've turned it over to our attorney."

John M. Hickey, a Tulsa lawyer who represents Cinnabar, did not return phone calls for comment.

Airports Director Jeff Mulder said the six-figure noise program invoices alleged by Cinnabar remain at issue.

"Their claim hasn't been resolved and obviously we still have issue with the $700,000 the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) indicates was not reimbursable," Mulder said. "It's still out there."

The majority of Cinnabar's claims -- $422,227 -- stem from a nine-month period between January and September 2003 when TAIT directed Cinnabar to halt the noise program. TAIT officials concede that 76 homes were under noise insulation construction at the time.

Deputy Airports Director Jeff Hough said an interruption in FAA funding for the program forced TAIT and Cinnabar to shut down contractors, store building materials and yet still keep enough workers available to resume construction when funding was restored. The program was restarted in September 2003 after the FAA resumed funding it.

After renewing Cinnabar's management contract June 30, TAIT and Mayor Bill LaFortune reversed direction and rejected it in July. TAIT then rebid the work, approving a one-year, $2.1 million noise program management contract with C&S Cos. Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y., last month.

The airport board rejected an extension of Cinnabar's contract because of what several board members termed "excessive" administrative costs. Administrative costs include field agent liaison services with homeowners; acoustical testing and engineering; architectural and engineering work; environmental services; construction oversight and inspection; and program management.

In 492 homes mostly south of the airport that Cinnabar and its contractors have sound insulated over the past five years, administrative costs have averaged about $14,000 per home.

C&S Vice President Michael D. Hotaling, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, told trustees last month that his firm's administrative costs are about $10,000 per home. C&S has managed noise programs for 8,000 homes over the past 15 years at airports in Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Diego and eight other cities, Hotaling said.

Mulder and Hough said C&S is expected to begin preliminary work in Tulsa about Dec. 1. Actual home construction should begin in January, they said.

"The scope of work will include 194 homes over the next year," Mulder said.

Parmele said all of Cinnabar's equipment, building supplies, plans and specifications and its model home have been turned over to the airport staff.

"We have been taking care of the warranty work" on previously constructed homes, Parmele said. "I'm still invoicing the airport for my time and the bookkeeper's time."

Federal noise mitigation programs began in Tulsa 20 years ago with property buyouts of homes affected by average aircraft noise levels of 70 decibels.

FAA acoustical studies in the late 1990s found that 1,672 homes, four schools and three churches in neighborhoods mostly south of the airport were eligible to participate in the current federal noise program.

Most of the properties experience noise levels in excess of 65 decibels, which is equivalent to the noise heard when standing next to a busy freeway.

Property owners in the program are offered options of sound insulation, sales assistance or selling flyover easements.