by Mary Ellen Eagan
I’m just back from ACI-NA’s Annual Conference. As usual, it was a great opportunity to find out the latest on industry trends, network with colleagues, and have a little fun.
This year’s conference was also especially rewarding for me, because we demonstrated that we can have a voice if we mobilize, articulate our expectations (Occupy Wall Street could learn something from the ACI-NA Noise Working Group here!), and bring consistent messages to decision-makers.
So here’s the story: the FAA has been drafting a Program Guidance Letter on Eligibility for FAA-funded Residential Sound Insulation Programs (RSIP) for several months. A significant point of concern is the expectation that this PGL will make clear that homes will need to meet a two-step eligibility criteria: (1) that they are exposed to exterior noise levels of more than DNL 65, and (2) that the interior noise level exceeds DNL 45 dB. Both ACI and ACC have been sharing concerns with FAA regarding this guidance, but it seemed to no avail until this weekend. During the Environmental Affairs Committee’s Preconference Seminar, Dan Frazee of SAN (Noise Working Group Chair) and Michael Hotaling of C&S Companies gained the attention of other ACI-NA airports by stressing the urgency of this issue. Here are some of the key points made in those discussions (thanks again to Michael for summarizing):
- Consistency – Airports have, in good faith, implemented the programs approved by FAA under Part 150 with Records of Approval that have simply stated that residential structures within the DNL 65 dB contour are eligible. Airport sponsors nationwide have been consistent in their strategies to invest AIP grant funds and reporting to FAA the results of their progress through annual status reports and acoustical testing reports. The spirit and intent of Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act (ASNA) is focused on a premise of consistency.
- Lack of Legal and Technical Basis for the PGL – FAA has cited a number of historic pieces of legislation and guidance documents as the basis for this sudden change in interpretation to use DNL 45 dB as a pre-requisite for a home to be treated. Research as far back as the Noise Control Act of 1974 has yet to reveal any legal basis for DNL 45 dB to be a defensible legal standard for acceptable interior noise levels.
- Current AIP Handbook Conflicts – The current version of the AIP Handbook was published in 2005 and included the addition of language that Part 150 states DNL 45 dB is the threshold of compatibility. Part 150 does not indicate any interior noise level standard. It only speaks to the compatibility of land uses with respect to exterior noise levels.
- Inconsistent Strategies for Allowed Mitigation Measures – The application of a DNL 45 dB interior noise level as a pre-requisite for sound insulation treatment seems in conflict with the other mitigation options permitted by the AIP Handbook. There is no “secondary” qualification criteria in order for an airport sponsor to acquire a residential property or offer any of the other mitigation options.
- Acoustic Testing Variability – The current methodology of conducting pre- and post-construction acoustic testing has a range of variability inherent to the process. The majority of the acoustic testing specialists follow American Society for Testing and Materials protocols and the accuracy of these protocols can range between two to four decibels. If FAA were to implement a strategy where DNL 45 dB became the new qualifying criteria, the variability in the testing process would significantly complicate the situation.
- Spirit and Intent of ASNA – The spirit and intent of ASNA appears to have been to equip airport sponsors with the most flexible means of implementing programs to reduce noise for their communities. It is difficult to perceive from the language in ASNA that the intent was to exclude the majority of the homeowners from receiving the benefits of sound insulation. Rather, it appears the intent was to be inclusive.
- Exposure – This sudden shift in policy application places airport sponsors with ongoing, or soon to begin, sound insulation programs in a very precarious position. San Diego International Airport’s Quieter Home Program has treated nearly 2,000 homes since it began in 1999 relying on AIP grants for 80% of program costs, and the FAR Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study Update that was approved by FAA in 2011 indicates there are approximately 9,000 homes remaining in the CNEL 65 dB contour. Changing program policy mid-stream that would likely eliminate the majority of those 9,000 homes from the program, in the middle of a multi-billion dollar capital improvement program would radically alter the community’s acceptance of that CIP. San Diego’s program is a result of a litigation settlement with the community because of noise impacts that dates back to the 1980s.
- Public Relations Disaster – A noise mitigation program is the most visible and effective tool an airport sponsor can deploy to respond to community concerns and opposition. Sound insulation programs have been embraced by airport neighbors with most programs treating 90% or more of the homes within the DNL 65 dB contour in these voluntary programs. After investing significant time, energy and resources to recover from issues that arose early in the acquisition program at Louisville International Airport, the Airport Authority now enjoys a very effective trusting relationship with the community for the sound insulation program that began in 2008. This 1,200 home program has completed about 100 homes to date and a change in the policy would destroy the good will that the Airport Authority has worked so hard to build over the last 20 years.
- Planning and Development Obstacles – Many airports have leveraged sound insulation programs to build the bond with the community who see the program as a fair trade-off for supporting (or at least not objecting to) master planning and capital development programs. Buffalo-Niagara International Airport has recently updated their NEMs which eliminated about 200 homes from the DNL 65 dB contour in their original 1,700 home program because of changes in the fleet mix operating at the airport. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority worked carefully to send the message to the community that while it was unfortunate that homes were eliminated from the sound insulation program, it was a technical issue. While there has been some objection from the community, this change has been largely accepted because of the defensible technical issue. The PGL implementation would eliminate hundreds more homes and put NFTA in a precarious situation with the community in the middle of an airport master plan and ongoing capital program.
- Evolving AIP Handbook – It is interesting to note the shift between the .38B (May 31, 2002) and .38C (June 28, 2005) versions of the AIP Handbook in the Noise Compatibility Projects chapter. The inclusion of language incorrectly stating that FAR Part 150 sets the interior standard at DNL 45 dB, suggests that a more thorough review of this chapter is warranted and that perhaps the most appropriate course of action is to revise the AIP Handbook to be in alignment with the letter and intent of ASNA. This seems to be a more practical and functional approach than a hastily launched PGL that would have devastating effects on airport noise mitigation programs.
Following the Environmental Affairs Committee discussion, Roy Fuhrmann (MSP), ACI-NA Environmental Affairs Committee Chair, presented the issue to the ACI-NA Board of Directors. I’m told the discussion at the Board meeting lasted for twenty minutes. Shortly after, phones starting ringing at FAA.
The end result: at yesterday’s “Open Mike with FAA” session, Christa Fornarotto, FAA Associate Administrator for Airports acknowledged that FAA needs to “be in listening mode” on this issue, and that they will more actively engage in discussion with industry partners to arrive at an acceptable solution. We all need to stay up to date on this issue – we’ll do our best from here.
After the meeting, I emailed Michael, and told him I felt like a “Who” from Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who.
Source: Wikipedia, 2011