Tulsa Airport Noise Program Temporarily Suspended

Jul. 30--Tulsa airport trustees voted unanimously Friday to shut down the five-year-old $40 million aircraft noise mitigation program and seek new management with lower administrative costs.

Airports Director Jeff Mulder said 1,672 homeowners in neighborhoods mostly south of the airport who are participating in the current noise mitigation program are being notified by letter that the program is being temporarily suspended. No homes are currently undergoing work, Mulder said.

Homeowners with questions about the program can call 838-5005 or log onto the Tulsa Airport Authority Web site at www.tulsaairports.com.

"Obviously, this is an abrupt stop and reversal, and we are trying to keep the citizens as informed as we can," Mulder said.

The vote to halt the program by trustees of the Tulsa Airport Improvement Trust reversed a June 30 board decision.

On that date, Chairman Ron Turner and trustee Meredith Siegfried, with the recommendation of Mulder and the airport staff, voted to extend Cinnabar Service Co.'s management of the program into the 2005-2006 fiscal year, which began July 1. Trustee Charles Sublett abstained.

Mayor Bill LaFortune and Carl Clay, trustees and critics of Cinnabar, were not present at the June 30 meeting and subsequently questioned the vote's validity.

City Attorney Alan Jackere determined that TAIT's trust agreement requires the votes of three of five members to approve a program or proposal.

LaFortune and Clay, along with every other board member during the past five years, are critical of Cinnabar's administrative costs, which are averaging about $14,000 per home.

Airport staff members surveyed U.S. airport noise programs and found Cinnabar's administrative costs on the high end of the average nationwide. Cinnabar officials, however, said previous airport boards directed that the company operate a neighbor-friendly turn-key program that would be more costly than a scaled-down version.

And, airport staff members said, federal funding has been less than half of the $14 million a year anticipated, meaning economies of scale were not realized.

Mulder said he met with Cinnabar, which agreed to lower administrative costs by about $1,000 per home. He recommended that the board reconfirm Cinnabar to proceed with $7.8 million of sound insulation work on 160 homes.

LaFortune, who Friday was in Washington, D.C., conferring with Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., about the $286.4 million federal transportation bill, directed city Chief Operating Officer Allen LaCroix to vote against authorizing Cinnabar to proceed with the noise program.

"To move forward without knowing if there is an alternative -- he (LaFortune) is opposed to the extension of this contract," LaCroix said.

Clay said that if the board was going to ask new noise manager candidates to restructure the program with lower administrative costs, it should do it now rather than next year.

Siegfried said she was troubled that the board was apparently willing to disregard Mulder's recommendation to continue with Cinnabar this year and negotiate lower costs with new management in succeeding years.

"Could we lower costs by putting it out for bids?" Siegfried said. "We're talking about 160 homes, possibly losing (FAA) grant money . . . possible litigation. I don't know that $1,000 in lower administrative costs would outweigh these other things."

Turner said LaFortune changed his mind in 24 hours.

"As of yesterday afternoon, the mayor was on board for approval," Turner said Friday. "He got other information, and now he has reversed his position."

LaFortune, speaking in a telephone interview Friday evening, said he changed his mind between a board executive session Tuesday and Friday. The board's requests for management company qualifications has given the board five management alternatives, he said.

"I came to the conclusion that we had already put it into a competitive process and thought we should continue the competitive process," LaFortune said. "I believe we can do better on administrative costs."

When Turner could not get a second to Siegfried's motion to approve Cinnabar, he asked for a motion not to approve Cinnabar. Clay made the motion. It was seconded by Sublett.

The board voted in favor of the motion to deny Cinnabar an extension of its work authorization.

"I'm absolutely stunned," said Cinnabar President Bob Parmele after the meeting.

Cinnabar CEO Bill Bacon said the company would work with the airport to make the transition to new management as seamless as possible.

"I'm confused by the mayor's continual change of position on issues concerning the city," Bacon said. "A true leader takes a position and sticks to it no matter how rough the going may get."

Jeff Hough, deputy airports director of engineering and facilities, said the board has received noise management qualifications from five firms: Jones Payne Group of Boston; C&S Cos. of San Diego; C. Kell-Smith & Associates Inc. of San Bruno, Calif.; Michael Roth & Associates of St. Louis; and THC Inc. of Duluth, Ga.

Cinnabar did not submit its qualifications for consideration as the next program manager.

Mulder said it would be October before the board could interview and select another program manager. Noise insulation construction could begin again by the end of the year, he said.