Friday, July 04, 2014

Bureaucracy delays soundproofing of homes: Dania Beach, Florida

DANIA BEACH – The multimillion dollar program to soundproof about 1,700 homes near the airport is running about a year behind schedule and will not be finished until 2018.

The noise mitigation plan involves replacing windows, doors, and air conditioning units, to the tune of $40,000 to $50,000 per home on average. The costs are being picked up by the FAA and the airport.

Trevor Fisher, director of the expansion program, blames the delay on a combination of cold and hot air – that is, air conditioning and bureaucracy.

"When we did the pilot program, we had to replace wall units with new split units, which require a condenser on the outside and an evaporator inside," Fisher said. "For the pilot program, we had no problems with that."

That pilot program soundproofed 48 houses. Then the main program began, with blocks of 100 houses soundproofed over the course of 18 months. But those new outdoor AC units were close enough to some neighbors that they ran afoul of local zoning laws.

Then, the soundproofing ran into another unexpected holdup.

"If we are replacing the air conditioning unit, we also need to resize the ducts," Fisher said. "And as we go through that, we realize that there's asbestos in some of the ducts, so it becomes an environmental concern."

The county had already gone through a battle with the FAA just to get the AC units paid for. The FAA doesn't usually include new air conditioning when it underwrites these projects, but because of Florida's high humidity, sealing off homes without upgrading the AC unit could be a disaster.

"Most of these homes were built in the '60s or '70s," said Fisher's colleague Diane Carter, the noise mitigation program director. "Now that we've sealed off the house, we need to provide climate control as well. If you don't have air conditioning properly working, you can develop mold, and with the house sealed, there could be a buildup of carbon dioxide as well."

Fisher and the expansion project staff got through the zoning red tape and now knew to seal in the asbestos so it wouldn't leak into the homes. But because Dania Beach is so close to the ocean, building code staff wanted these new outdoor AC units to be corrosion resistant. The FAA had just agreed to pay for the AC, but they weren't going to go any further.

"We had to go back to the airport and get them to pay for that cost," Fisher said. "So, a lot of stuff that we didn't discover during the pilot program had to be ironed out. Hopefully, we've found everything and now we can move forward."

All of this is very cold comfort to homeowner Dawn Read, whose house was to have been completed in March 2014 -- half a year before the planes would start landing in September. But with the year-long delay, she will now endure six months of window-rattling, ear-splitting noise.

"They came out to do the measurements last week and said, 'OK, it'll be ready next March,' and I was just devastated," she said.

Read's home is the cozy, Old Florida sort of place for which Dania Beach is known. A 3/2 with almost 2,000 square feet, with a pool and a lake out back, the place suits Read well.

The event director of Fort Lauderdale's annual Winterfest Boat Parade, Read has decorated her home with seashells, nautical themes, family portraits, and a dash of rock'n'roll. A Squier guitar signed by the Rolling Stones hangs in the dining room.

"For ten years, I've been going to the meetings on this," Read said, referring to the early, often contentious public meetings over where the runway would be built. "And to just see this all change at the last minute like this…"

She shakes her head and looks out the thin sliding glass door to the lake, the door that rattles and booms when the dogs jump against it to be let in.

"It's about quality of life," she said. "You know, we're outdoors people, we love this back yard, and that's just gone now. To have the inside of the home this way too … I guess we're going to find out in September just how bad it will be."

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