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Proposed legislation could score airport money

By Justin Boron

Congressman David Scott has proposed legislation that would alter the way federal noise abatement grants are dispersed by requiring a citizen review committee to meet before any funds could be spent, a legislative assistant for Scott said.

The subject of the grants ? which aim to mitigate airport noise levels for residents ? has galvanized a tenuous dialogue between citizens of Clayton County and airport officials about the money's unfair distribution.

Rep. Scott, D-Georgia has taken up the citizens' cause, making repeated efforts to level the scales of allocation for the money.

His efforts extend as far back as 2003, when he met with the Forest Park mayor to discuss the issue.

The problem stems from what, Scott has said, is disparate use of the grant funds acquired by the airport, which total over $36 million in the last two years.

The city of Atlanta receives the grants and administers their dispersal because it runs the airport even though part of the airport is located in Clayton County.

"The airport affects more than just the city of Atlanta," said Michael Andel, Scott's senior legislative assistant.

Andel said Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is run by the city of Atlanta, spends nearly 85 to 90 percent of the funds on Fulton County residents.

Lanii Thomas, a spokesperson for the Department of Aviation at the airport, denies any unfair practice of dispersal, claiming the money is allocated according to noise contours developed through decibel studies conducted by airport.

To be eligible for the grant money, a resident's house must have a Day/Night decibel level (DNL) between 70 and 75 decibels, said Christopher White, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Association, which approves the grants and their distribution.

If eligible, a resident can receive money to install special insulation or can be relocated.

Despite vigorous citizen complaint, Andel said Clayton County has had little input on issue.

"People in Clayton County feel like they kind of get the shaft," he said.

A review board could open the approach to the distributing of the grants and make Clayton citizens feel more involved, Andel said.

San Francisco's airport, which also is located in a different county than the city that runs it, has provided a model for this type of committee, he said.

The San Francisco International Airport established a voluntary, community roundtable in 1981 to include the 18 cities surrounding the airport in the decision making process.

The group meets once per month, except in January and August, and provides a public forum for citizens to state grievances, said Bert Ganong, manager of the airport noise abatement office.

For noise abatement grants, each city assesses the eligibility of its own residents. The city also is compensated for these administrative assessments with a portion of the federal grant, he said.

Thomas said the airport has held public forums before but wouldn't say the Department of Aviation was entirely open to the idea.

"We've done it in the past and continue to look for ways to mitigate noise," she said.