Monday, January 02, 2012

Group to press Palm Springs on military jet noise. Councilmen to give update on military operations at meeting

PALM SPRINGS — The military jet noise out of the Palm Springs International Airport subsided over the holidays, but the issue remains one of the first orders of business in the new year for city officials.

Members of the Airport Noise Citizen Committee huddled outside of Koffi last Friday to prepare for Wednesday's city council meeting, where councilmen Chris Mills and Paul Lewin are expected to update residents about their efforts to quiet military jet noise.

The newly formed group said it wants the city to be aggressive in its questioning of military officials about the spike in military flights into Palm Springs.

“We're afraid they're backing off to let residents cool off, then they'll be back at it again,” committee chairman Vic Gainer said Friday, referring to the relatively quiet December.

“They're staying below the radar, but for how long?”

A total of 2,068 military operations — takeoffs and landings — occurred at the Palm Springs airport between January and November, with 215 military operations in November alone.

October was the noisiest month of the year so far with 298 military operations out of Palm Springs, according to airport statistics.

Statistics for December were not available Friday, though residents said they noticed a significant drop in noise in recent weeks.

Gainer was joined Friday by committee members Robert Carlson, Scott Connelly and Cheryl Houk, who are anxious to hear Lewin and Mills' update Wednesday.

Lewin and Mills serve on the council's ad-hoc subcommittee that focuses on military jet noise mitigation. They met recently with airport officials and Marc Troast, political director for Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, who wrote a letter to the Pentagon asking for the reason behind the increase in flights.

At the Wednesday meeting, Lewin and Mills plan to discuss the options the city has available. Neither would discuss details before the meeting.

“The goal is to see if there's anything that we can do to reduce the sound impact on the city because it's really not just the people around the airport; you hear the jets throughout the city,” Mills said.

Gainer said while the group intends to work closely with Lewin and Mills, the group plans on continuing its own research to come up with solutions.

The group's goals are to:

• Suggest alternative sites for military flights;

• Work toward completing a new environmental impact study to update the airport's current noise compatibility program;

• Determine whether there is federal money available to provide double-pane windows and other soundproofing improvements in homes near the airport.

Members of the committee acknowledge there are many people who do not support their position and believe the city should be welcoming military flights, not criticizing them.

But they stress that they're not just whining about not being able to sit poolside quietly.

“There's an economic impact that can't be understated,” Gainer said. “This isn't just a quality-of-life issue; it's becoming a threat to the city's real estate industry.”

Carlson, who has worked in real estate in Palm Springs for a year now, said he recently lost a client to the east valley because as he showed a Palm Springs home, a jet flew overhead.

In November, Connelly began circulating a petition to call for the reduction of local military operations that the group says “are causing health and welfare concerns for residents.”

So far, the group has collected more than 150 signatures.

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