NWA Filing May Stop Metropolitan Airports Commission Suit

A joint lawsuit that Eagan, Minneapolis and Richfield filed against the Metropolitan Airports Commission earlier this year may take the latest hit from Northwest Airlines' bankruptcy.

The airline believes its bankruptcy effectively stops the cities' lawsuit, which centers on the soundproofing of homes under flight paths.

Last week, Northwest filed a notice of bankruptcy with the Hennepin County District Court, an action that would "automatically stay" the lawsuit, according to federal bankruptcy rules. Such a stay, a typical part of bankruptcies, acts as an injunction would.

Although the three cities originally sued only the commission, which owns and operates Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Northwest later fought to join the lawsuit.

"Northwest should never have entered this lawsuit," Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Wednesday. "This doesn't deal with them, and if they want to save money, they should get their nose out of something that didn't involve them in the first place."

A district judge gave both sides until Friday to file briefs on what they believe the impact of bankruptcy will be. The cities' Denver-based law firm is handling the case, and attorneys are expected to argue that the commission, and not Northwest, should be on the hook.

Privately, municipal officials speculated the reason Northwest initially wanted to join the lawsuit was to help stop it if the airline did declare bankruptcy. Northwest ostensibly is wary that a lawsuit against the commission could adversely affect the airline's bottom line.

The airport is one of Northwest's major hubs and is the commission's largest tenant. Both the commission and Northwest have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

Eagan officials would say only that they are waiting to see what happens in court.

Neither the commission nor Northwest would comment Wednesday, although spokesman Patrick Hogan said it was the first he'd heard of the airline's recent filing.

The cities sued the Metropolitan Airports Commission in April for reneging on what officials say was a promise to provide soundproofing for more homeowners living under flight paths.

Earlier this month, homeowners in Richfield and Minneapolis filed a separate lawsuit against the commission, also accusing the public body of failing to fulfill its noise-insulation program.

Since 1992, the commission has spent $223 million to soundproof 7,690 homes in areas where the noise level — called DNL, or Day-Night Average Sound Level — is 65 or greater. That mitigation generally included ramped-up doors, windows, insulation, ventilation systems and air conditioning.

But municipal officials contend that during airport expansion discussions in 1996, the commission promised the same comprehensive package for more than 3,600 other homes near the airport in the 60 to 64 DNL range. They have said the airports commission initially committed to spending $150 million on this round of soundproofing but has since whittled the expenditure down to $47.5 million.

The commission's position has been that it agreed to help homeowners, but not to the extent city officials want.

The noise mitigation money comes from airport stores, parking and ticket surcharges, Rybak said.

"This is not Northwest's money. This money comes from passengers," he said.

"I am sympathetic to Northwest, but I am more sympathetic to Â… the people trying to make do with houses that are worth less now because the airports commission won't deliver on promises it made to homeowners."

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

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