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Jet noise jeopardy: Seattle’s skies will soon get quieter — except on Beacon Hill

Southeast Seattleites rebel after years of noise dumping and disdain. A lesson from Magnolia: Call your congressman and senators.

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Even getting a meeting can mean running an obstacle course. In September, the FAA scheduled just two public meetings on the Greener Skies environmental assessment: in Federal Way for the corridor south of Sea-Tac and, for the north, in Ballard, which won’t be appreciably louder. It held the original scoping meetings last January in Federal Way and in Shoreline, which will actually get less noise under Greener Skies.

Why not on Beacon Hill, which will be more affected? FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer says the meetings are arranged by a consultant who's handling the Greener Skies roll-out nationwide, and are held where space is available. Stanford thinks it’s because they wanted to avoid the heat. He says there were more attendees in Ballard from Beacon Hill than from Ballard. They were disappointed to find that it was show-and-tell, with no opportunity to ask questions during the session.

The ensuing outcry (echoed by Mayor McGinn's office) prompted FAA officials to schedule a meeting on Beacon Hill in October, where they would take questions. But about a week before, they cancelled that gathering, saying that key personnel wouldn’t be available then. That didn’t go down well. Erik Stanford had lined up interpreters and prepared a quadrilingual brochure for the meeting. Robert Bismuth, a Magnolia Community Club trustee and veteran of past FAA dealings cancelled a business trip to attend. When they cancelled the meeting on short notice, he says, “that sent a message to the community: You don’t count.”

The rescheduled meeting, in November at Cleveland High, did not go well either. The FAA reps seemed ill-prepared: no printed agenda, no signs directing attendees to the hard-to-find auditorium. About 100 attendees peppered them with sharp questions about flight routing and noise monitoring; they demurred on many, saying “Stan can explain that.” (Stan Shepherd, the manager of Sea-Tac’s noise programs, who seemed more informed and sympathetic.)

Such hand-offs are all too familiar to noise-weary, jet-wary citizens. “If you call the Port of Seattle to complain about noise, they’ll take a complaint and say, ‘It’s out of our hands, you need to talk to the FAA,’” sighs Stanford. “It’s a terminal condition — the Port pointing at the FAA, the FAA pointing at the Port.”`

This daisy chain can take on a Wonderland quality. The Port tracks flight noise with 31 monitors distributed from North Seattle to Federal Way. According to Port spokesperson Perry Cooper, they “are used, together with a consultant who comes in and puts all the data together for airport noise around the country" to gauge noise impacts and determine mitigation.

The Quieter Skies group claims Southeast Seattle has gotten shortchanged on monitors. The district, which has 80,000 residents and lies right in the flight path, has just two monitors — on Beacon Hill and Brighton Playfield, while Federal Way, which lies farther from the airport, has four (and besides gets all the meetings). Quieter Skies urges, ambitiously, that six more be deployed around Southeast Seattle, in hopes that they’d prove that the noise there is worse than the FAA says and justify mitigation or remedial action.

Vain hope. Shepherd, the Port’s noise-control manager, says he has no idea why the monitors were deployed as they were, but it doesn't matter; they don't affect noise policies anyway. “Even though there might be more in some areas and fewer in others, noise monitors aren’t going to make any difference. Per FAA regulation [and despite what Port spokesman Cooper says], we cannot have a direct input of the noise monitoring data into the model used to gauge impacts."

So what are the monitors good for? “It’s a kind of balance and check,” says Shepherd. “The noise monitors’ data is just used to answer questions from the community about impacts." (The Port's website says they also help it monitor airlines' compliance.) In other words, they are a means of reassuring the public, not protecting it.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

RE jet emissions, I use them as an excuse for not having a tomato or cucumber patch in my backyard. (I live in Magnolia.) Several years ago and only a week after SPU had delivered a new recycling bin, its top was covered with black 'stuff', otherwise known as airplane emissions.

I believe this is a valid evironmental concern.

m-t-e

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

It's not average noise or adjusted noise that's the problem. It's peak noise that wakes us up at 2 AM on Beacon Hill. These middle-of-the night landings are mostly freighters. They could delay until daytime and land with the passenger planes. Also, since the politicians are talking about reduced government spending, they could consider cutting back on operating hours for the airspace and airports.

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

The noise complaint web site for the Port of Seattle is here:

It is always worth filling out a complaint.

I have been involved in monitoring the current Part 150 process. The Port of Seattle and FAA have also had Part 150s in the past. The current one kicked off in late 2009 with the selection of Landrum and Brown as Part 150 consultant. The project is significantly behind schedule and for more than 18 months there has been essentially zero communication to people who showed up at the kickoff meetings. The Port did send an email recently saying that on Jan 22, the commission will be receiving an update. Here is an excerpt from the email:

--excerpt begins--

January 22nd Port Commission Meeting on Part 150 Study Meeting to be held at the Conference Center at Sea-Tac Airport at 1 PM

The Port of Seattle Commission’s January 22nd regular meeting will include an update on Sea-Tac Airport’s Part 150 Noise Study. The update will include information on the draft recommended options for reducing aircraft noise in the new proposed noise remedy area around the airport.

The Part 150 Study will be available for public review sometime after the January 22nd Commission meeting. The dates of the Part 150 public comment period, along with the date of the final public outreach event, will be announced in the near future.

For your convenience, please visit the dedicated Part 150 Study website (http://www.airportsites.net/SEA-Part150/) for all documentation connected to the study.

--excerpt ends--

When the third runway opened, the Port repeatedly said "Part 150 is where we will address noise issues." Many citizens said "please use Part 150 to look at noise issues beyond any type of contours that are mentioned in the regulations." Sadly, that has not happened. The Port Commission, the FAA, and the Port noise staff all point to Someone Else.

I highly doubt any of the hundreds of people who bothered to show up at the community meetings has any confidence at all that Part 150 findings will actually make a positive difference in the noise they experience. But, the commission on Jan 22 has an opportunity to prove this assertion wrong. Will they take it?

sjenner

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Here is the noise complaint form web site:

http://www.portseattle.org/Environmental/Noise/Pages/Noise-Comment-Form.aspx

sjenner

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 8:53 p.m. Inappropriate

What about tapping two potential sources of funding to help mitigate this problem - noise abatement and energy conservation? My understanding was when Congress passed the "Cash for Caulkers" legislation providing subsidies for home energy audits and retrofits that they had a hard time finding places to spend the money. I would imagine communities in SE Seattle would welcome some additional insulation around now which could add to their comfort and reduce their heating bills. In the mean time its important to remember you get as much justice as you demand and bureaucracies will ignore you as long as you let them.

Posted Wed, Jan 16, 5:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Unfortunately we live in a temperate climate so for a good part of the year it is actually nice to open windows rather than living in a sealed environment full of stale and unhealthy air.

I live in NE Seattle under the flight paths and a comparable source of annoying nighttime summer noise are (empty) buses laboring up the hill 2 blocks from my house at 5 AM in the morning.

WSDW

Posted Sat, Jan 19, 8:41 p.m. Inappropriate

By appearances, Mr. Scigliano describes the existing situation with regards to SeaTac noise footprints and monitoring.

What Mr. Scigliano fails to do is to adequately report the technology that the Greener Skies initiative incorporates.

As this article in the Seattle PI explains, Greener Skies is a combination of using GPS to plot a more direct route to the airport AND a continuous descent without the stair-step that current approaches mandate.

See here: http://blog.seattlepi.com/worldairlinenews/2010/07/23/alaska-airlines-greener-skies-test-flight-lowers-emissions-by-35/

As documented in the Seattle PI article, Alaska Airlines was able to demonstrate a 35% reduction in fuel burn through the use of Required Navigation Procedures (RNP) which Greener Skies encompasses.

And this is where Scigliano should have dug a little deeper and explained a little more thoroughly. A reduction of fuel burn of 35% is also a reduction in pollution and a reduction in noise. It is the continuous descents characteristic of RNP that eliminate the need to throttle back-up to hold airspeed that results in the elevated community noise levels.

RNP permits airplanes to more-or-less glide under idle thrust from cruise altitudes down to landing. So when current Mt. Baker residents complain of current airplane noise, it primarily is due to airplanes having to throttle-up to maintain airspeed and/or separation in approach traffic.

If one takes Scigliano's reporting at face value, one might be skeptical of the FAA's predictions based upon their previous history. But I would expect that any law suit to halt implementation of Greener Skies into SeaTac would not be sustained without expert testimony that would discount the FAA's contention that the continuous descent profiles would result in comparable community noise levels along the new flight paths.

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