Thursday March 29, 2018
Burlington International Airport received a stamp of funding approval from the FAA for new Noise Exposure Maps to reflect F-35 data.
With the fighter jets anticipated for a 2019 arrival, there has been a massive push to update the maps with relevant F-35 data that will show which properties will be affected and to what degree.
New Noise Exposure Maps Underway
Noise Exposure Maps (NEM) 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 to participate in the Noise Compatibility Program (NCP); there is an NCP Technical Advisory Committee working on updating the program with new land use measures such as a home insulation program. Both the NEM and NCP are part of a larger federal program known as the Part 150 Study.
The maps will include 2018 current data with F-16C operations and a 2023 forecast map with F-35A operations.
“We can apply for a grant any time, but the New England region gave us May 1 as the deadline to apply,” said Nicolas Longo, the airport’s deputy director of aviation administration.
This was not the airport’s first attempt; a grant application submittal for NEM funding in September 2017, the end of the FAA fiscal year, was rejected by the FAA. Longo explained that each attempt is worthwhile, as there may be discretionary funds available to use.
“We need to be our own advocates,” Gene Richards, the airport’s director of aviation, added. “We’ve benefitted from that…we kept pushing. We need to keep pushing for anything and everything we can get.”
In response to this update, the NCP Technical Advisory Committee unanimously agreed, on March 22, to take a hiatus. This will help shift the focus to the Noise Exposure Maps, garner public feedback, and then return to the Noise Compatibility Program update process before the airport submits the NEM and NCP updates together to the FAA for review.
In the meantime, the airport will revive another group, the Airport Sound Mitigation Committee, to discuss airport matters in greater context. This group consists of representatives of the airport, VTANG, Army National Guard, local jurisdictions, and the business community.
“We want to make sure everyone has seen the draft Noise Exposure Maps and move forward with the public hearing on the new contour lines inclusive of the F-35,” Longo said. “That way, all property owners can weigh in on Noise Compatibility Program land use measures concurrently with Noise Exposure Maps.”
It is possible that no new land use measures will be recommended in the NCP after a community conversation about the noise contour maps, but it is best to keep the possibility open for change, he added.
“My gut is telling me that the geometry of the noise contours is going to change based on the dynamics and characteristics of the aircraft,” expressed George Maille, a resident and NCP Technical Advisory Committee member. “It will probably affect different areas as a result. From an NCP standpoint, you probably won’t be introducing any new programs, but the NCP may reflect some different numbers or geographies.”
For municipalities like Winooski, this news comes at an opportune time, Winooski’s City Manager Jessie Baker said.
“I’m very appreciative of this change,” she said. “Right now we’re being asked for feedback on measures that may or may not affect our residents, and they don’t know who may or may not be affected. To run them [NCP and NEM] more concurrently, we can get more appropriate feedback from our residents about what those measures could be.”
Noise Exposure Map Schedule
As with the current Noise Exposure Maps, the airport is again working with consultant group HMMH to work on the new maps.
March through May will be dedicated to data collection, approval of military aircraft modeling, and developing operational forecasts.
Through the summer, June through August, the consultant will focus on developing the draft contours and conduct a land use analysis.
The public process opens up in the fall during the September and October months to review the Draft NEM document with public meetings and public comment period.
The NEM will be finalized and submitted to FAA for approval, along with the NCP update, by the end of the calendar year.
The FAA has 180 days to review the project. Therefore, there is a possibility the airport could miss a spring fiscal funding cycle if the applications are not approved in time.
“The priority given to Burlington due to the extent of this program is very high nationwide and definitely in the region,” Longo assured, which the FAA will consider even if the airport applies after the deadline.
Noise Compatibility Land Use Measures
The following land use measures are being explored for an updated NCP and will have a public hearing process for review. Further discussion of these measures is on-hold pending the NEM public hearings and comment period.
Sound Barriers and Buffers: Placement of barriers and buffers would shield nearby homes from ground-level noise. Per Airport Improvement Program funding and requirements, the noise barrier would need to prove reduced aircraft noise by at least five decibels (dB) in noncompatible areas of 65 dB DNL and higher. Residents experiencing a five dB DNL reduction from the barrier would not be considered eligible for other mitigation measures. This land use measure is noted as being an expensive option that benefits only those closest to the noise source.
“It’s hard for me to understand that a barrier would be too expensive when you’ve spent that much money to buy homes that benefits the airport, when a barrier would benefit the community,” Carmine Sargent, resident and NCP Technical Advisory Committee, challenged. “I think per capita investment you’re helping a community whereas with taking homes, you’re ruining a community. I think it’s all in a frame of mind.”
The airport confirmed it was open to exploring more funding options and providing documentation (i.e meetings) in support of these types of measures for community benefit (i.e. meetings).
Residential Sound Insulation Program: Homes constructed prior to Oct. 1, 1998 that are within the 65 dB DNL line with interior noise levels of 45 dB or higher can sound insulate their homes. An Acoustical Test Plan is conducted; preliminary tests are done to determine eligibility, sound insulation package designs are developed and piloted, and then they are tested at post-construction. Acoustical windows and doors, central air conditioning or ventilation system installations are among some of the upgrades.
Sales Assistance: Assists owners who wish to sell their property and relocate. The airport assists with the sale on the open real estate market for fair market value. An avigation easement is required, and the airport pays a differential payment if the property does not sell at fair market value. A market absorption study is also conducted to determine the expected rate at which homes can be sold to maintain neighborhood stability.
Purchase Assurance: Assists owners who wish to sell their property and relocate. The sale is made directly to the airport for fair market value, and an avigation easement is required. The owner is not eligible for relocation benefits, but the airport is responsible for closing costs associated with the acquisition and sound insulation of the property. There are no changes to the underlying zoning. A market absorption study is conducted.
Purchase of Avigation Easements: Provides eligible property owners who wish to remain in their home and do not qualify for sound insulation the ability to obtain a cash payment. Easement values are under $10,000 per property based on an appraisal. This is an alternative for individuals who do not qualify for sound insulation. Avigation easement language for Burlington has not yet been drafted but will be a public process.
Land Acquisition and Relocation: Airport purchases property for fair market value, occupants are provided relocation benefits to move outside impacted area, the airport razes the structure upon acquisition, and works with local jurisdiction to rezone the land into a compatible use.
“Seeing that we have a little extra time, we’d be interested in using this time to communicate with our constituents, the neighborhoods, and have a good fruitful dialogue now that you’ve shared the details of all of these programs,” said Paul Conner, South Burlington’s director of planning and zoning.
“Let’s try to take our time and get it right,” Richards said.
All materials related to the Noise Compatibility Program, Noise Exposure Maps, and committee work can be found at www.btvsound.com.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent