Friday, December 30, 2016

Howard County, Maryland, weighs bill to authorize legal action over air traffic noise

The County Council will weigh whether to take the first step toward legal action against the federal government over flight patterns that are bringing noisy airplanes closer to homes.

County officials say they've been frustrated for months in their attempts to get the Federal Aviation Administration to rethink its NextGen air traffic update.

"They just seem to be kicking the ball around," said Council Chairman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat who says airplane noise has gotten louder around his Ellicott City home.

Weinstein and Councilman Calvin Ball, also a Democrat, plan to introduce a bill Tuesday that will give the county government's law office the authority to "institute any civil action or other proceedings" over NextGen.

As part of the $35 billion nationwide air-traffic overhaul, BWI Marshall Airport in Linthicum has changed flight patterns, resulting in increased noise in some communities surrounding the airport.

The FAA estimates the increased efficiency of the NextGen air traffic update will save $160 billion on fuel, maintenance and other costs through 2030.

But people who live around the airport say the improvements come at a cost to them.

In some cases, residents who are used to hearing some airplane noise say the planes are closer and louder than before. Others who haven't heard airplane noise now have planes flying near their homes.

Complaints also have been lodged by homeowners in Anne Arundel County communities such as Severn, Hanover and Millersville. BWI sits in Anne Arundel, just about a mile from the border with Howard, so residents in both counties are affected by the airport's operations.

If Howard County takes legal action against the FAA, it wouldn't be the first local government to do so. Lawsuits have been filed by local officials in cities, including Phoenix, Ariz.; Newport Beach, Calif.; and Culver City, Calif., according to news reports. In some other areas, homeowners have filed lawsuits.

Howard County officials say they've tried to work with the FAA on the issue, but that the federal agency has not been responsive.

Weinstein and Ball say legal action is a necessary step to consider after getting little help from the FAA.

They and other Howard officials have held meetings with the FAA and written letters, but that effort is "not resonating to the extent we hoped," Weinstein said.

"Frankly, I'm troubled that our FAA folks have been unresponsive and have not addressed the issues for our constituents," said Ball, who has fielded complaints from constituents in Hanover, Elkridge and Columbia. "It's unfortunate that it's come to this."

Weinstein plans to talk with other local counties to see if they're interested in pursuing a joint action against the FAA.

But he also said there are other possibilities for resolving the concerns.

He's asked Maryland's representatives in Congress to hold hearings on the issue. And with a new presidential administration arriving in late January, there will be new leadership at the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA that could address the issue, he said.

County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican, also has worked on the issue and has said he's frustrated by the problem. He was not immediately available to comment on the proposed legislation, said spokesman Andy Barth.

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