Monday, July 29, 2013

Milton Poised for Long-Term Fight with Federal Aviation Administration Over Logan Aircraft Noise

The Board of Selectmen have declined to pursue an appeal over runway 33L but promised to fight noise from airplanes going into Logan in general.

When Chris Devine moved with his wife and two young daughters from the North End to Mark Lane in Milton last fall, he was expecting a reprieve from the commotion of city life.

Like many residents who live under the relatively narrow air corridors in which airplanes land and take off from Logan International Airport, when the Devines visited their prospective home and then purchased it, they had no idea that they had signed up for a life-changing experience.

Instead of the occasional fire alarm, late-night revelers and car horns of Commercial Street, the Devines now hear the unmistakable and impossible-to-ignore blast of jet airliners sometimes 12 to 14 hours non-stop and often in the dead of night.

"It starts to impact your life," Devine said.

A group of Milton residents, the Milton Citizens Committee on Aviation Impacts, have been pursuing an appeal of the newest flight path, for Runway 33L, which brings departures from Logan Airport above Milton, but are also gearing up for a long-term battle with the Federal Aviation Administration over what they say is an unfair amount of airplane traffic over just one town out of the dozens in the Boston area.

Residents said this week that they will file an appeal with the First Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in Boston over 33L despite recommendations from the town lawyer and others to the contrary. It is vital to long-term strategy to force the FAA to reconsider what they say are the flawed arguments the agency used to implement the new air corridor last month.

"It makes on impact on them," Phillip Johenning, one of the committee organizers, said.

The deadline to appeal the 33L runway implementation is Aug. 3. Sheryl Fleitman, co-chair of the citizens committee, said the FAA did not consider the full population of Milton in its study, ignoring group settings like schools and retirement homes, did not consider alternative routes and did not listen to public input.

The FAA by law does not have to respond to individual comments about its plans, but residents have complained that the agency has completely ignored their concerns in its bulk responses. But that is also one reason why Town Counsel John Flynn recommended to the Board of Selectmen that they forgo an appeal of 33L.

Last week, the selectmen declined to file their own appeal on behalf of the town. Instead they said they would pursue a strategy that encompassed all of Milton's flight corridors. Town Administrator Annemarie Fagan will send a letter to U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano as a first step.

It would be "difficult" to get an appeals court to overturn the FAA's decision on 33L, Flynn said, in part because of the deference that the courts show to federal agencies. It would also be an expensive undertaking, requiring the hiring of a consultant to appeal the runway addition, and Milton would likely fail, he said.

David Godine, who has fought airplane noise over Milton for more than three decades, urged residents and the selectmen to focus on the bigger picture. More than 50 percent of flights landing at two of the runways at Logan approach over Milton, he said, and more and more are landing every year.

"This is a battle we should give up and concentrate on the war," Godine, an alternate member of the regional Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee. said of 33L. "It ignores the gorilla in the room."

If the FAA does not agree at the urging of residents and town officials to compromise on the air corridors, Godine said, then the town should be prepared to sue.

"There is a problem in Milton," Selectman Thomas Hurley said. "I think we all know there is a problem in Milton."

Other towns disagree with the severity of the problem, though, and declined to join Milton in pursuing the possible 33L appeal. Fagan told the Board of Selectmen that she reached out to officials in Belmont, Newton, Dedham, Canton and Randolph and all said they were not impacted enough to get behind the effort.

Johenning, who lives under the same flight path as Devine, on Parkwood Drive, said that the push to appeal the newest runway is an important part of the long-term strategy because it builds consensus.

"Everybody ignores you if you don't have a bunch of friends," Johenning said.

He moved to his current home in 2009 from Quincy. The noise has gotten worse since then, sometimes to the tune of 400 flights a day. He can often identify the model of aircraft, when it was made and what the landing gear look like.

"This is not insignificant, this is not silly, this is not frivolous," Johenning said. "It's teeth-shaking loud. ... During the Super Bowl, it felt like we were being dive-bombed."