Representatives seek flexibility in noise abatement funds

By Ed Brock

When Ed Miles moved into his north Forest Park neighborhood in 1965 there were no jet planes flying overhead, only propeller aircraft.

Those weren't so bad, Miles said, but then around 1970 the jets started coming into Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport and life on Stillwood Cove steadily began going downhill.

"The pollution and the danger continue to increase every day and it's not going to turn around," Miles said. "You can see droplets of jet fuel on your car in the morning."

For years Miles has fought to have the airport pay for relocating the people in his neighborhood away from the airport's side effects. He was happy to hear that officials from Forest Park, Lake City, Morrow and Jonesboro were working through U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, to get a share of some recent federal grant money that could be used to mitigate some of those effects.

"I encourage all the meetings they can have to help the people who live north of the railroad tracks and even south of the tracks when the fifth runway comes," Miles said.

On Monday Hartsfield General Manager Ben DeCosta and Federal Aviation Administration Southern Region Administrator Carolyn Blum sat down with Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall, Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt and representatives from Morrow and Jonesboro at Scott's office in Jonesboro to discuss the situation. Scott said he wanted to give the mayors "something to take back home" from the meeting.

"We've got problems down here. There needs to be some help if even on an individual basis," Scott said. "I'm afraid that if we don't we won't be able to find people to come live in Morrow and Forest Park and Lake City."

Monday's meeting came about after Oswalt and Hall met with Scott at Lake City City Hall in September to show Scott a video tape Oswalt had made of a plane flying over city hall. The video, which showed windows rattling from the sound of the passing jet, was part of the reason why Oswalt thinks Lake City should get a share of a $1.9 million FAA grant the airport received for noise mitigation in August. The airport received another $12 million grant in April, Scott said.

"We wouldn't be griping if we didn't get the drift (of airplanes from their regular flight paths," Oswalt said during the meeting. "If they would stay on their contours we wouldn't be here today."

The contours to which Oswalt referred are noise contours on a map the FAA had drawn as part of the environmental impact study for the airport's fifth runway that is now under construction.

Part of the curving green line that indicates on the map the area with a 65 dnl, or day/night sound level average, cuts through parts of Forest Park. By policy the FAA can only spend its grant money in areas with 65 dnl, Blum and DeCosta said.

The $1.9 million that drew the mayors' attention is part of a nearly $46 million grant Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta presented to Hartsfield officials on Aug. 15. The majority of the grant money is supposed to go for improving security at the airport, specifically for the installation of explosive detection machines, Mineta said during his presentation of the money.

But there still isn't enough money to fix every problem, DeCosta said, and he has to make decisions on how to spend what they have.

"If you have someone in less than 50 dnl and someone else in 70 dnl, if you were in my shoes what would you do?" DeCosta said.

But for now the 65 dnl limit is only a matter of policy, Scott said, not of law. Scott is one of about 30 members of Congress who are trying to stop an inclusion to the Vision 100 n Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act Conference Report that would make the limit a matter of law.

"The FAA has some discretion and is able to be flexible," Scott said.

By the end of the meeting Blum had agreed to review the FAA policy, a move Scott called "a big step." Oswalt was also pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

"When I called that first meeting I never knew it would get this far," Oswalt said. "If nothing else came out of it at least we got some answers."

Hall said he just hoped this would not be another incident like the city has had in past negotiations with the airport in which FAA and Hartsfield officials only met with city officials just to appease them.

"I think if the people who were there who have the authority to do things do what was requested of them then some very positive things can come from it," Hall said.