Pittman, Ball Support Commission To Study Health, Environmental Impacts of BWI on Neighboring Areas

March 11, 2022

Mar. 11—Anne Arundel and Howard county executives said their constituents' health and quality of life have been negatively affected by changes to flight paths at BWI Marshall Airport. At a hearing Wednesday, they advocated for a bill that would create a commission to study the impact the airport has on neighboring areas.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Clarence Lam, Sarah Elfreth, Guy Guzzone, Katie Fry Hester and Ed Reilly, would create a Maryland Aviation Infrastructure Impacts Commission to study the health and environmental impacts of the airport. The Senate Finance Committee met Wednesday to discuss the proposed commission, which would be composed of residents from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties.

County executives Steuart Pittman, of Anne Arundel County, and Calvin Ball, of Howard, said they were strongly in favor of the commission because residents living near the airport have found airplane noise is louder and their health and quality of life have been more severely affected since the implementation of the Federal Aviation Administration's Next Generation Air Transportation System in 2015.

The Next Generation system was established at airports across the country in an attempt to cut down on delays and carbon emissions, but has led to planes flying closer to the ground, disrupting nearby neighborhoods.

"As things like new runways are discussed, as changes are made at the airport, expansions, to not have some sort of a voice for the residents and not have an assured way that the state is going to hear the concerns, not only of the residents, but then the academics and the health professionals as well as hearing from the stakeholders, the airlines and everybody that's a part of the whole economy around BWI airport — we need to have that voice," said Pittman, a Democrat.

Pittman stressed that he and the residents of Anne Arundel County understand how beneficial the airport is to the county's economy and said he simply wanted his residents more involved in decision-making.

"We love having BWI airport in our county. This is not an anti-airport effort. This is really a community engagement effort," Pittman said.

Ball agreed that Howard County residents are feeling the noise and environmental impacts and need a seat at the table in these discussions.

"As county executive, it is my goal to ensure that all of our residents are thriving and healthy and we will continue to aggressively advocate for those experiencing the declining quality of life due to the changing aviation patterns. Both Senate Bill 658 and its House [companion bill] have broad support among our Howard County delegation members," said Ball, a Democrat. "We feel strongly that the community should have a voice."

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, did not testify at the hearing, but the county sent a letter to the committee in support of the bill.

A hearing on the House version of the bill was scheduled for Thursday.

Senators on the committee said they thought the commission was an important effort but some questioned its capacity to make any substantial changes.

"All the decisions are with the FAA, so I'm not sure what this commission can do to affect the FAA's decision," said Sen. Pam Beidle, a Democrat who represents a district that includes the airport. "The commission can study and get results, but how are they going to affect any change with the FAA?"

Annapolis resident Mary Reese from the DC Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable said that, while the FAA is the only party that can change flight patterns, there are smaller, but important steps the proposed commission could take to ease the noise pollution such as advocating for establishing nighttime quiet hours, caps on maximum noise levels and the number of operations, and noise-based landing fees. Reese lives 20 miles from the airport and says she hears noises from it almost constantly.

Another Annapolis resident, Geoff Stagg, testified that the noise is simply unbearable.

"The airport noise has really come to affect the quality of my life," Stagg said. "I can't tell you how bad it has become. I swear that at times they're trying to land on my roof at 6 o'clock in the morning, at 10 o'clock at night."

The Maryland Department of Transportation and Southwest Airlines both submitted letters opposing the bill, arguing in part that the BWI Roundtable already helps bring community concerns to the airport, rendering the commission redundant.

"I do want to make clear that the commission serves a different purpose than the roundtable," said Lam, a Democrat who represents District 12, which includes parts of Howard and Baltimore counties. "The roundtable was created by the FAA, which, similar to the [ Maryland Aviation Administration], has a dual hat in this role. The MAA and the FAA serve as both the regulator and the advocate for the industry and so it is challenging to be able to work through some of these more complex matters."

Lam added that the commission would not just look at flight noise but all sorts of health and environmental issues related to the airport that the state may not be aware of. Neither bill has been voted on yet and it's unclear if either one will get a vote.

This is not the first effort to study the airport's impact since the Next Generation standards took effect. Two years ago, Sens. Lam, Beidle, Elfreth, Guzzone, Hester, Reilly and Charles Sydnor sponsored a bill to study the effects planes have on the human nervous system, hearing, breathing, animals that live near the landing zone, the Severn River and more. It also had a house companion bill. After they were passed by the General Assembly, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it.


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