Belmont/Watertown Takeoff Noise Concerns Remain Up In The Air

Photo: Adriana Poole (in foreground) speaking to State Rep. Dave Rogers, State Rep. Jonathan Hecht and Belmont CAC representative Myron Kassaraba at a community meeting on noise from departing jets from Logan Airport.

Adriana Poole knows first hand about oppressive government agencies.

Born and raised in Romania under the Stalinist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Louise Road resident recalls the total contempt the government had for its people.

Today, after living in the United States for decades, Poole thought her time with uncaring dictatorial authorities was at an end.

“I’m not saying this lightly, the [Federal Aviation Authority] to me is a pocket of totalitarianism … in the midst of the best democracy on earth,” said Poole as she spoke to elected officials, town representatives and citizens at a community meeting last week, Dec. 3, to discuss the increase in noise from aircraft departing Logan Airport.

Poole, who created the QuietBelmont Google forum group to provide a place to discuss and vent about the number and frequency of planes flying over Belmont and surrounding communities, said it was “troubling that no one seems to be addressing [the FAA which has] absolute power. That’s just not OK.”

According to Belmont’s rep on an overview group, it appears federal intervention, in addition to loud, community activism, is the only way to force the FAA’s hand on the issue.

Nearly one year to the day when it made its initial presentation to the town, the Belmont representative to the Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee was back before a joint meeting with their Watertown colleagues at Belmont Town Hall to update residents on the FAA’s new departure procedure and efforts to address the increased airplane noise from departing flights using Logan’s Runway 33 left.

At the meeting, Belmont CAC representative Myron Kassaraba used a detailed slide presentation that demonstrated that since June 2013, the FAA – which regulates and oversees all aspects of American civil aviation – implemented a new route for planes departing Logan. In the past, the routes out of Boston were much more random in their distribution with planes using a wide swath of air space.

With an eye towards safety and efficiency, the FAA deployed technology in June 2013 that now requires planes to move in much narrower paths as they head to the south and west. Unfortunately for residents, three of the four main air avenues fly directly over Belmont.

As a result, noise complaints to Massport, which runs Logan Airport in East Boston, have skyrocketed in the past year – from zero in Feb. 2013 to more than 250 in the same month in 2014, the most of any community in the region – as the sound of dozens of planes pass overhead “very concentrated population areas” throughout the day, said Kassaraba.

There have been some small victories for local communities to cheer, according to Kassaraba, including a trial that will last until January of varying the use of runways at Logan so that noise is not constant throughout the day but during the morning or evening. In addition, the airline industry is moving towards quieter, more fuel-efficient engines, which State Sen. Will Brownsberger said must be encouraged by the public and elected officials.

While Belmont residents are raising the concern of quality of life as well as related health concerns, the FAA is preparing a final study that could demonstrate that a greater number of communities in and around Boston are less effected by aircraft noise and they addressed other issues. Currently, the FAA is supporting its claim using what many see is an outdated noise model based on four decade old statistics.

Kassaraba said the CAC and elected officials have spoken to officials on Beacon Hill and with Massport CEO (and Belmont resident) Thomas Glynn on the noise concerns but “[t]his is really a federal issue so if there are any changes, it must be done in Washington [DC].”

“It will take an act of Congress” to change the flight patterns, said Kassaraba.

While admitting movement has been slow in approaching the FAA on issues impacting communities – it is hardly a single region concern as citizens in New York City, Chicago and Phoenix have recently complained of increased noise from aircraft – Jennifer McAndrew, a senior advisor to US Rep. Katherine Clark said she is an inaugural member of a new group of 25 representatives from communities impacted by airport and plane noise dubbed the Quiet Skies Caucus which was created in October to find solutions to noise barraging their constituents.

After sending a letter to Michael Huerta, the FAA’s administrator, Clark received a response in late November that indicated a willingness by the FAA to conduct a noise survey in the next year to determine if the current noise model is valid. 

In addition, the FAA’s reauthorization will be before Congress in 2015, an opportunity to push for greater responsiveness to citizens complaints, said McAndrew.

“These are small steps forward in a very long process,” she said.

In the meantime, residents should continue to file complaints via phone or online with the Massport noise complaint line, said Kassaraba.

Poole said that long lasting change to the current environment is to pressure federal and local officials to add language to the FAA’s mission statement that it must address any and all adverse impact they have on communities.

“To the FAA, I’m just collateral damage,” she said.

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