Tulsa Airport Board Hires Noise Firm

Oct. 14--Tulsa Airport Authority trustees Thursday approved a one-year, $2.1 million noise mitigation management contract with a Syracuse, N.Y.-based firm whose costs officials estimate to be a third of the previous program manager.

The board selected C&S Cos. Inc. to take over the program begun in 2000 by Cinnabar Service Co. of Tulsa. The board in July rejected an extension of Cinnabar's contract because of what several board members termed "excessive" administrative costs.

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.

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.

Michael D. Hotaling, vice president of C&S, said his firm has managed noise programs for 8,000 homes over the past 15 years at airports in Detroit; Cleveland; Cincinnati; San Diego; Anchorage, Alaska; and seven other cities.

Hotaling estimated C&S administrative costs at $10,000 per home, or about $4,000 less than Cinnabar.

"The biggest difference between Cinnabar and us is that Cinnabar actually held the construction contracts with contractors," Hotaling said. "Now, the Tulsa Airport Authority will hold the contracts. We will be serving as a consultant.

"Also, in the previous process, (Cinnabar) provided additional layers of dry wall. We have learned over 15 years that it is costly, but it has relatively negligible sound insulation value."

During the next year, C&S will sound insulate 194 homes. The first 64 homes, for which Cinnabar performed design specifications before being halted by the board, will be insulated for administrative costs of $5,526 per home, said Jeff Hough, deputy airport director.

"Instead of spending $35,000 per home, we're looking at $20,000 per home in construction costs," Hough said. "These numbers are much more in line with the national averages."

Federal noise mitigation programs began 20 years ago in Tulsa 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 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 are given options of sound insulation, a sales assistance program or selling flyover easements.

Airport staff members said Cinnabar's administrative costs were high to begin with because earlier airport boards designed a program that was neighbor-friendly. Also, they said, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Federal Aviation Administration funding for the noise program dropped from an anticipated $14 million a year to less than $7 million annually.

Reduced federal funding has stretched out a program that many thought would be completed by now and frustrated homeowners who are experiencing more noise and greater aircraft numbers.

"We can't carry on conversations anymore," Carol Barrow, who lives at 8924 E. Marshall St., told the board. "When the F-16s go over four or five at a time, you stand and have to wait five minutes" to continue the conversation, she said.

Lura Dowty, like Barrow, lives in the Layman Van Acres addition southeast of Tulsa International's main runway. Dowty said the neighborhood has deteriorated in the past 10 years.

"I bought my home in June 1968 when 10 jets a day flew over," said Dowty, whose house is at 8905 E. Latimer St.

"The last time we counted, it was 86 jets a day, not counting the military jets. You -- the system -- has ruined the value of our homes. The average income in our neighborhood is about $26,000. People live on fixed incomes. People can't afford to fight you. They don't have the strength."

City Councilor Roscoe Turner asked the board to meet with the neighbors.

Airports Director Jeff Mulder said performing updated acoustical studies may prove counterproductive. Newer, quieter jet aircraft could yield a lower 24-hour day-night decibel level than those recorded previously, making some homeowners ineligible for federal assistance, he said.

Mayor Bill LaFortune said the board should explore other options, meet with homeowners and pursue congressional remedies.

In other business, the board approved a professional services agreement with parking consultant Carl Walker Inc. of Atlanta. The firm, which earlier this year studied airport parking operations and recommended a $2-per-day increase in covered parking rates, will assess a potential expansion of covered parking.

After an hour-plus executive session, the board agreed to extend legal services agreements with two firms.

Trustees approved a $50,000 amendment to a legal services agreement with Foley & Lardner LLP, which has provided counsel to the board on FAA-related issues. Those issues include the suit filed by the Tulsa Industrial Authority against the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust over the bankruptcy of Great Plains Airlines.

The agreement with Foley & Lardner has been amended three times. Before the board's action Thursday, the agreement called for fees not to exceed $150,000.

The board also amended a legal services agreement with Pray Walker Jackman Williamson & Marlar. The latest amendment increases not-to-exceed fees of $100,000 by $50,000.

The Pray Walker firm is defending TAIT in the Tulsa Industrial Authority litigation. The complexity of the legal issues involved in the case required an amendment of the agreement, airport officials said.

Trustees rejected a $100,000 amendment of a professional services agreement with the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm of Venable LLP.

In his motion to reject the amendment, Trustee Charles Sublett said Oklahoma legislators can effectively deal with Tulsa airport issues "without lawyers."

LaFortune agreed. "We have congressmen and senators fully staffed. They are very accessible and very willing to meet with us about funds," he said.

"In my world," Sublett said, "$100,000 is a lot of money."


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