Airport Advisory Committee Continues with Noise Compatibility Program Update: Homeowners’ Rights Called Into Question With Avigation Easements

Home » City » Airport Advisory Committee Continues with Noise Compatibility Program Update: Homeowners’ Rights Called Into Question With Avigation Easements

Thursday December 14, 2017

As the federally-regulated Land Acquisition and Relocation Program draws closer to completion, the Burlington International Airport, along with the technical advisory committee, is actively working on updating its Noise Compatibility Program (NCP) to present to the FAA for new land use options for homeowners within the 65 dB DNL noise contour.

The latest NCP technical advisory committee meeting was held on December 5 at the airport. The committee is made up of various stakeholders and was formed in the fall for the sole purpose of the Part 150 Study, which both the NCP and Noise Exposure Maps fall under.

From South Burlington, the technical advisory committee involves the city’s Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner, City Manager Kevin Dorn, and airport neighborhood residents Carmine Sargent and George Maille; Sargent and Maille both served on the now defunct Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Planning Committee as well as its corresponding noise subcommittee.

Members of airport operations, the FAA, other municipalities, educational institutions, VTANG, the Army Guard, Burlington Airport Commission, Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, and the South Burlington Business Association, are other voices on the committee.

Together, members are required to go through the current NCP document, elicit feedback from members and general public to draft recommendations, and then go through a public consultation process.

Looking Back: Noise Compatibility Program
The NCP update will be an indication of what’s to come, with FAA approval, but the first chunk of the December 5 meeting took a glance at the past.

“This is a requirement,” clarified Nic Longo, the airport’s director of planning and development. “We have to look at the entire document from before to move forward and then look to the future.”

“We don’t mean to waste people’s time,” added the airport’s director of operations, Gene Richards. “This process is set up by the FAA. We’re going through the steps that we’re supposed to go through to make sure we’re vetted properly and make sure everybody gets the information.”

The existing NCP, last updated in 2008, includes 15 FAA-approved measures with a mix of operational, implementation, and land use elements. The 2008 NCP, and associated Record of Approval (ROA), revised a single measure: the Land Acquisition and Relocation Program expanded from the 70 dB DNL contour to a 65 dB DNL contour for permanent residents. Brad Nicholas of HMMH, one of BIA’s consultants, outlined those measures.

Six of seven airport operations measures have not been fully implemented. One is in progress: extension of Taxiway G to help reduce noise levels for residents. The airport is in phase two of three, and the final phase is scheduled to be completed in 2020. The four other airport operations measures include terminal power installation and APU/GPU restrictions, Nighttime Bi-direction runway use (air traffic control), voluntary limits of military C-5A training, voluntary minimization of F-16 multiple aircraft flights, and voluntary Army Guard helicopter training controls.

Two monitoring and review elements include ongoing monitoring and review of NEM and NCP status and flight track monitoring; Burlington is moving forward with prospective companies that analyze flight track data in the next six months.

Finally, there were six land use measures included in the current NCP, but Burlington chose to apply available funding to the one land use measure that was implemented: the Land Acquisition and Relation Program.

Land acquisition and relocation is responsible for a hit to South Burlington’s affordable housing stock: a loss of nearly 200 homes which were demolished.

Other measures, including sound insulation, easement acquisition related to sound proofing, an Airport Zoning Overlay District, and easement acquisition for new development and real estate disclosure measures were not implemented.

“We are wrapping up the acquisition program, and we will be completing all offers to the neighborhood by the end of the year so that we can move on with these NCP initiatives,” Longo confirmed.

Longo also confirmed that the airport is working with FAA’s Richard Doucette, environmental program manager under the New England Regional Airports Division, to fund a new Noise Exposure Map. With the F-35 fighter jets anticipated for a 2019 arrival, the airport tried submitting a grant for an updated NEM with F-35 data before the end of the last fiscal year in September 2017, but it was denied.

“The intent is to fund it quickly and work concurrently with the NCP process so we have both going at the same time and the submission to the FAA be at the same time, which could occur in the fall of next year,” Longo said.

Noise Exposure Maps are computer-modulated maps that display average levels of sound illustrated by contours. Properties that fall within a 65-decibel day-night average sound level (dB DNL) contour of the airport’s operations are considered eligible for the program. Over 900 homes have been identified as eligible for land use programs; 888 of them are in South Burlington.

What’s an Avigation Easement, and what does it mean for homeowners
In addition to making an informed decision about which land use measures are the most suitable options (pending FAA approval), homeowners could also be tasked with understanding language outlined in a potential avigation easement.

An avigation easement is a legal document between the owner and the Airport Sponsor that is conveyed in exchange for something of value. Easements could state that, in exchange for noise mitigation, like sound insulation or land acquisition, the homeowner gives the airport the right of aircraft flight over or near the property, light emission or other items, or even the prohibition of obstructions, such as trees or owners. An easement can also be in exchange for a monetary sum determined by a previously determined lump sum or percent of appraised fair market value; methods and values must be approved by the FAA.

“If we were to pursue an avigation easement, what happens if things change significantly?” asked Paul Conner, South Burlington director of planning and zoning.

According to Jones Payne Group Principal Diane Carter, an airport consultant, the advisory committee can work the language to address the potential. She also referenced avigation easement language examples used in Rhode Island and Connecticut airports.

“You can build in triggers in an easement,” she said. “In terms of concerns about long term growth, every property owner worries about executing something that runs with their land and it being part of a process of selling your home; you can build triggers in: you’re moving next to an airport, but if noise changes dramatically, then this easement is no longer valid.”

While airports are not required to have easements, the FAA is recommending it to Burlington. Sales Assistance, Purchase Assurance, and new development proposed land use measures would have easements associated with them, but whether sound insulated homes would have it, is yet to be determined.
The community will have to decide what it wants, Carter asserted. If some homes have easements and others do not, how does that affect the neighborhood? “For some communities, that’s a real concern,” she said. “For others, it’s not.”

Imagine this scenario: a homeowner sells his/her home. Does the new homeowner have access to sound mitigation? Winooski City Manager Jessie Baker posed the question.

“Couldn’t that potentially deteriorate the community housing stock where you have some homes that are mitigated and some that have an easement that don’t have access to mitigation?” she asked.

The recommendations from the advisory committee and ultimately the airport will have to decide if that works, Carter said.

“Just because a house doesn’t have sound insulation in their neighborhood, doesn’t necessarily deteriorate a property,” she added. “It’s difficult to make judgements on how a community would react to certain requirements for the sale of homes or not, but it’s something you have to think about.”
According to Carter, this is the first time in her experience where an airport has opened the floor for a public discussion of an easement.

“Every other place I’ve been, they’ve said, ‘this is your easement. Take it or leave it.’ This is a unique opportunity.”

The advisory committee tentatively has five meetings through May 2018 before launching into the public hearing and comment period, estimated to run between August and September 2018. The next meeting is on Tuesday, January 23.

Once the airport submits the NCP, the FAA will have 180 days to review the document before deciding whether or not it will be funded.

For agendas, program documents, presentation materials, and all Noise Compatibility Program Technical Advisory Committee updates, visit

“We want to make sure you understand. The information is on our website so please if you don’t get it, come back so that when you’re going to these work sessions, you’re going as an active participant.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent