Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Airport neighbors asked to make noise
By Ryan Huff
THE CONTRA COSTA (CA) TIMES
From the peaks of Pleasant Hill to the neighborhoods of North Concord, residents hear the buzzing engines of planes taking off and landing at Buchanan Field. Airport operators want those bothered — or not bothered — by the racket to sound off Wednesday night. That’s when they’ll hold a public hearing to listen to residents who say they know all too well the sounds of corporate jets, helicopters and planes that use the Concord airport. “Sometimes it sounds like a group of two or three loud Harleys going by,” said Hal Yeager, who lives near Diablo Valley College.
“With the noise from garbage trucks, you can put up a fence to soundproof it. You can’t put a fence above your backyard to block aircraft noise,” said the longtime noise foe and president of airport watchdog group People Over Planes.
Airport officials say that’s the kind of feedback they are after. Earlier studies have shown that areas near the college, Pacheco and Solano Drive-In theater in Concord hear the most airport noise.
Finding the times and locations of other noise nuisances will help Buchanan Field as it develops a new master plan that will guide the county-owned airport for the next 20 years.
Airport staffers will gather that information as they prepare for a noise impact study and study ways to lessen those effects, said Beth Lee, airport business and development manager.
“We can’t close the airport. We can’t eliminate touch-and-gos” for training flights, she said. “But we could talk to the pilots and say, ‘Can you fly higher?’ or ‘Can you not fly between certain hours?'”
Contra Costa County doesn’t have much power to enforce new rules because the Federal Aviation Administration governs the airspace. A 1987 county noise ordinance limits flight training hours and bans loud “Stage 2” aircraft, such as certain Lear jets.
Since then, federal law has preempted local noise ordinances, although the 1987 county rules remain in effect. For new regulations today, the county typically can only ask pilots to follow voluntary guidelines.
But the county can improve the airport to reduce noise. For example, the county is considering nighttime lighting on its runway closest to Highway 4. That way, planes departing in the evening would fly over Golden Eagle oil refinery instead of homes.
Yeager said he would welcome that upgrade. “That would have tremendous noise benefits for the community,” he said. The noise impact study should be finished in six to nine months. After additional public hearings, county supervisors are expected to approve the master plan next year.