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Noise in the 'Hood : Residents Under the Flight Paths Expected in Burbank Airport Expansion Are Crying Out Loud About Looming Threats to Their Quality of Life

April 25, 1993|TOM PATERSON | Tom Paterson is chairman of the East Valley Airport Impacted Communities Coalition, an organization of homeowner groups. and

Two years and $1 million in the making, the Burbank Airport Authority's recent environmental impact report on terminal expansion deals with perhaps the most environmentally significant project ever proposed for the San Fernando Valley.

And it is deeply disappointing.

For it fails to come to grips with the central question surrounding the airport.

That is: Is the Burbank Airport going to be a small, convenient facility? Or is it destined to become a congested mini-LAX, without growth controls to limit environmental damage?

In failing to address the question, the report becomes a tool of those who favor unrestrained airport growth, namely its proprietors.

We grant that the airport is used by millions of people. It is an economic engine driving various business interests. It is a job-generator and fills an important niche in the national transportation picture. Those benefits are not disputed. On the negative side, the airport has grown too close to its Valley neighbors for comfort.

We often hear, "Didn't you know there was an airport there when you bought your home?"

Yes, the airport was there, but current flight patterns were not.

That's the rub. The systematic shift of flights away from Burbank has given Burbank noise relief and Los Angeles a noise burden.

Now the airport wants a new terminal that would be 670,000 square feet by early in the next century, about four times its present size. That would allow for increasing the number of gates from 13 to 29, with a corresponding increase in potential flights.

The environmental report says a new terminal is needed for safety, which of course everyone favors. But safety is only one issue involved in the airport's future.

The airport managers have ignored everything else. They have dressed a giant project in an envi ronmental diaper, then used a "safety" pin to hold it together.

Don't let them fool you. A giant is a giant. This giant has all the makings of an environmental monster.

The report says in effect that no controls on growth are needed. It is crafted to justify maintaining the operational status quo, assuming a growth in air traffic and in auto traffic to and from the airport but concluding that there will be no significant environmental impact.

This is clever. If you don't propose change, you don't have to study the consequences of change, such as a share-the-noise runway proposal pushed by Los Angeles. The report isn't supposed to be clever. It's supposed to be comprehensive.

We are alarmed over several gaps in it, starting with airplane noise.

What will be done to improve the environment of Los Angeles communities burdened in the future with doubled or tripled numbers of jets overhead? The report is silent on this question. We know doubling or tripling jets overhead (there are now about 140 commercial jet arrivals and departures daily) will destroy the quality of life in many Los Angeles neighborhoods in the East Valley.

If you are skeptical, visit former residential areas around Los Angeles International Airport.

There's controversy between Burbank Airport and its affected communities over how you define the noise impact problem.

The airport uses computer reports, contour lines and an outdated regulatory system to define the noise problem. Their scheme renders legally nonexistent a large noise impact area, even though the airport's own flyover noise readings there are as bad as in the official noise impact area.

We are afraid that should the project go forward as proposed, the airport will walk away from widespread residential soundproofing as a mitigation measure. It may be too expensive, or the airport may have no legal obligation to do anything.

Depending on how the noise impact area is defined, mitigation--soundproofing--could cost from $60 million to $450 million.

That's a rough estimate based on soundproofing 2,000 to 18,000 residential units and schools under current flight paths within one to three miles of the airport. Where is the money to come from?

The courts have not respected our rights. In earlier lawsuits they always ruled against the impacted community. Now that the city of Los Angeles is suing Burbank Airport over the environmental impact report, we hope the judiciary strikes a legal balance between airport and aviation rights and community rights.

In a recent and troubling legal decision, the courts gave the airport a gift of gold: aviation easements over residential properties, with the legal right to make noise, without compensation.

Does that decision mean the airport may never have to soundproof anything for anybody, no matter how bad the problem gets?

We've met with airport staff and authority members numerous times. We certainly do not see eye to eye on airport expansion. Maybe that's what's wrong. They only see the problem: We hear it.

Where do we go from here?

We want the Federal Aviation Administration to refuse to certify the environmental impact report. Its status quo premise is wrong, as are the resulting conclusions.

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