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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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