New Minneapolis-St. Paul Int'l Airport Runway to Affect Area Residents

April 18, 2005
Residents are not quite sure what to expect when the new North-South Runway at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport opens in late October.

This summer might be the last that Eagan resident Nathan Krahn sleeps with his windows open.

Shutting out airplane noise soon could trump catching a waft of fresh evening air.

Krahn, like others in the south metro, is not quite sure what to expect when the new North-South Runway at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport opens in late October. But he knows there will be more noise and complaints.

"I do have concerns, as does the city. But no one has a whole lot of control. We just have to understand that it's coming," Krahn said.

The new southern runway and its increased traffic and noise has been a topic of conversation since the Legislature approved it in 1996, but as the opening creeps closer, officials have bolstered their effort to get the word out. Both Burnsville and Eagan are holding public meetings this week for interested residents.

And with good reason: Those living in sections of Eagan, Apple Valley, Burnsville and Bloomington should expect a noticeable increase in air traffic activity this fall, warns the Metropolitan Airports Commission, the public body that owns and operates the airport.

"People are concerned, and we do get phone calls about it. But the runway is in place and there's not much we can do now except inform our residents," said Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz. "I tried for nine years to change the runway's footprint. It didn't work."

The new runway will add five flight paths and a total of about 290 new daily departures and arrivals over Eagan alone. In all, 37 percent of the airport's traffic is expected to use the 17/35 Runway, which will increase its capacity by 25 percent.

The southern cities, along with Richfield and Minneapolis, long have wanted the MAC to buffer more residents from the racket that accompanies expansion and stepped-up airline traffic.

Earlier this month, Minneapolis, Eagan and Richfield jointly sued the MAC for backing out of a 1990s agreement to provide more impacted homes with extra insulation, new windows and air conditioning.

Despite the rift over noise mitigation, Eagan and MAC officials continue to hold open houses together and educate the public.

Eagan held its first MAC-staffed open house in November and will continue to hold them in different neighborhoods until the runway opens. Burnsville is holding three meetings in April and May.

"We've been working as hard as we can to communicate the impact, as best we know it," said Dianne Miller, Eagan's staff liaison to the city's 10-member Airport Relations Commission.

Eagan has held four meetings so far, with attendance ranging from 50 to 300 people.

She fields at least a dozen calls weekly from residents curious about what their new noise levels will be. Miller directs them to the MAC's noise Web site and finds a comparable location to the existing runway for them to go to.

"For example, if a resident lives six miles from the new runway, I would encourage them to visit Lake Harriet, which is six miles away from the existing runway," she said.

Krahn joined Eagan's airport commission two years ago and has been involved in planning the community meetings. He lives just off of Diffley Road in central Eagan squarely underneath one of the new flight paths.

Despite MAC efforts, Krahn said, he does not believe there is a good way to accurately measure the impact. "What is undeniable is that noise will come to sections of the city that previously didn't have any."

The Cedar Grove corridor is expected to bear the brunt of the noise increases in Eagan, and resident Margo Danner said her neighbors are warily awaiting the runway. Danner, a member of the city's Parks Commission who moved in 40 years ago, said hers is an established community, comprising many retirees.

"We joke that they set the runway up this way on purpose. They figured all the old people could just take out their hearing aids and not notice the noise," she laughed.

Danner's levity turned somber when she talked about her neighborhood's stability.

"I have a neighbor who is moving because of the runway. You do notice more For Sale signs going up," she said. "This is a settled area. Who would ever have thought there'd be a runway going over our house?

"I hope it isn't as bad as we fear."

Most affected south metro residents live in areas where noise levels are below the Federal Aviation Administration's standards to require noise insulation.

In areas where the noise levels called DNL, or Day-Night Average Sound Level were considered too high, the MAC has spent $223 million to soundproof 7,690 homes since 1992.

The mitigation for homes that experienced jet noise at 65 DNL or higher generally included ramped-up doors, windows, insulation, ventilation systems and air conditioning.

But officials in the three cities that sued the MAC say it originally promised the same comprehensive mitigation for more than 5,500 other homes near the airport located in areas with DNL levels in the 60-64 range.

While Eagan and other cities are bracing for more noise, other areas likely will see a drop-off as traffic shifts from the existing parallel runways.

"We've been anxiously awaiting the opening of 17/35. We've been told it will help us, that it could reduce traffic here by at least a half," said Mendota Heights city administrator Jim Danielson.

MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said he expects some folks in South Minneapolis to get noise relief as well.

"There's no question there will be an impact. But it will be mixed," Hogan said.

That's about how Krahn sums up his feelings about the airport's overall impact on Eagan.

"It's far more complicated than saying shame on you for the noise," he said. "The airport might have a less than desirable impact sometimes, but it pumps a lot of money into the economy, boosts the tax base and brings in jobs. It's an important resource."