Flight paths over Edina to remain the same

The flight path of planes over Edina will remain the status quo, and while Edina officials are happy about that, they say this is only the first step in the process.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission approved in a standing room-only meeting on Monday, Nov. 19, supporting Area Navigation, called RNAV, that would cause a new flight path plan for the metro area. But the MAC excluded the proposed flight tracts that would cross over south Minneapolis, central Edina and southern Edina.

MAC members differed in opinions, with some wanting a formal Environmental Impact Statement completed and others saying RNAV is coming at some point in the future anyway.

Edina officials and many residents took issue with the proposed flight paths because it would cause planes to be concentrated over their homes and they didn’t feel there had been an adequate public process regarding the proposed changes.

Mayor Jim Hovland said Edinans are interested in “sharing the pain” of air traffic noise rather than have two flight paths concentrating the planes over the city.

“We can do better than this as a community, especially with the technology that’s available,” he told the MAC in his public comments.

City Manager Scott Neal also requested Edina have representation on the Noise Oversight Committee, which approved the proposed changes in a 10-1 vote on Nov. 14.

Edina resident Jim Grotz pointed out Edina’s lack of representation on the oversight committee during the public comment period. Grotz claimed Noise Oversight Committee members said they wouldn’t put air traffic in another member’s district. He concluded, “It became very convenient to dump everything on Edina.”

The Federal Aviation Administration was proposing the new routes in the implementation of RNAV. Dennis Roberts of the FAA told the MAC that the new navigation system creates a more efficient airspace.

“Human kind trumps efficiency,” Hovland said after the meeting. He said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting and that he wants to begin discussions with the FAA immediately about the five criteria the FAA has to meet in the project, as dictated by the Noise Oversight Committee.

“I’m very pleased the Metropolitan Airports Commission recognized the lack of due process Edina suffered here,” he said.

The approved motion means the FAA would push back the implementation of RNAV until mid-2014 instead of the planned implementation in spring 2013, Roberts said. The delay is due to new analysis needing to be completed with the tracts the MAC supports.

Edina officials now have time to work with the FAA to discuss the issues that have arisen in the past week, when most residents became aware of the proposed changes, Hovland said.

Neal pointed out that the MAC meeting was the first step in understanding and figuring out the issue. He added that he thought the requests of Edina officials both locally and at the state government level to slow down the process was reasonable.

State officials representing Edina have been working quickly on this issue in the past 72 hours, Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) said before the meeting. he said he was proud of how all elected officials in Edina came together.

“It was an all-hands-on-deck for Edina,” he said.

Sen.-elect Melisa Franzen said everyone put aside their differences and worked together on the issue. She said she’s been impressed by the emails she’s received from the community regarding the issue. Residents are concerned, but also thoughtful and respectful in their comments, she said.

Franzen asked during her public comment that the MAC to postpone the implementation until cities have time to review it.

“Key communities like Edina have been completely left out,” she said.

She said after the meeting that it’s now time to begin working with the Noise Oversight Committee and the MAC and to be as transparent in the process as possible.

Neal acknowledged that Richfield residents are going to be disappointed by the MAC decision.

Richfield Councilmember Tom Fitzhenry said delaying the changing the flight paths is telling Richfield residents that they have to continue to put up with plane noise for another two years. He said he feels its “all or none.”

Richfield homes below large volumes of air traffic have been mitigated to alleviate the extra noise. The problem is that wind and early turns cause planes to not follow the path down Highway 62 and they instead fly over homes in Richfield that haven’t been mitigated, Fitzhenry said. RNAV will put the planes down Highway 62 like they should be, he said.

MAC Vice Chair Lisa Peilen, who represents both Edina and Richfield on the commission, abstained from the vote because of the conflicting interest in the two cities.

In his public comment to the MAC, Hovland said the FAA didn’t consider the noise impact the increase in air traffic over the city would cause. The proposed tract over central Edina would have caused an increase of 100 to 150 percent in planes flying overhead.

He said the increase in air traffic efficiency needs to be balanced with the effect on the homeowners’ quality of life, health and home price.

He also noted that no other airport in the United States has fully implemented RNAV yet.

“This isn’t something we should be doing first,” he said.

Several Edina residents spoke about the personal impact the proposed increase in flight traffic in Edina would have on their lives.

Edina resident Catherine Sussman said neighborhoods of houses and schools are built up against Highway 62 and Bredesen Park by the highway has bird watching. She suggested the solution was fixing the noise emitted by planes. She asked the commission, “Why are we destroying communities instead?”

She said she feels for Richfield and she has neighbors who have moved from Richfield to Edina due to the plane noise over Richfield. However, she agreed with Hovland that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area should be first in implementing RNAV.

“I don’t think Edina should be the guinea pig for noise in the country,” she said.

Kim Jones of Edina was tearing up as she explained how she had moved her family, including her four children, from San Francisco to Edina last year for better schools and a quieter neighborhood where her children could play. Her family also moved to an historic district because they don’t want the feel of the neighborhood to change.

“Please don’t take this away,” she told the MAC.

She also added that her children attend schools without air conditioning, where the windows are sometimes opened, that were in the proposed flight paths.

“I don’t know how the teachers are going to teach over it,” she said.