Minnesota Cities Sue for Noise Abatement Issues

APRIL 7, 2005

Pioneer Press

The cities of Eagan, Minneapolis and Richfield filed suit Wednesday against the airports commission for failing to dampen the jet noise that rolls over thousands of houses near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The cities claim the Metropolitan Airports Commission reneged on a promise to buffer the homes with extra insulation, new windows and air conditioning, according to a complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court. The lawsuit says the state Environmental Rights Act requires the commission to protect the homes from the roar of overhead jets as they approach Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

In November, the airports commission, the public body that operates the airport, submitted a proposal to the federal government that would provide central air to homes with noise levels between 60 and 64 decibels. The commission board said it would pay between half and 90 percent of the cost of installing central air conditioning in homes that don't have it. The total cost to the commission would be about $55 million, said airports commission spokesman Pat Hogan.

Houses that experience jet noise at 65 decibels and higher receive a full $45,000 insulation package. Since 1992, the commission has insulated 7,600 such homes at a cost of $330 million, Hogan said.

But in some cases, that can mean one house has new insulation, while another across the street does not, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Wednesday at a news conference.

"We will not stand by when a promise is broken," Rybak said.

Among the houses the suit says should receive aid are 492 in Eagan, 4,291 in Minneapolis and 845 in Richfield. The suit seeks a five-decibel reduction in airplane noise for those homes.

Accomplishing that would cost the commission $300 million, Hogan said.

"They want the same $45,000 package for homes 5 miles from the airport that we provide homes 200 yards off the runway. The board has said that's not reasonable," Hogan said.

Federal law requires noise mitigation only for homes that experience noise at 65 decibels and higher, he said.

Dozens of neighbors gathered for the news conference in front of Magdalen and Kris Nelson's home in the 4500 block of Pillsbury Avenue South in Minneapolis. The Nelsons noted that during the 30-minute news conference, no airplanes seemed to interrupt. But at other times, the noise is so disruptive that windows in the nearly century-old home shake and backyard conversations are impossible, the Nelsons said.

Kris Nelson estimated it would cost him at least $27,000 to replace windows and doors and to redo heating and air conditioning to cut down on the airplane noise. He said he had no idea of the cost of extra insulation in the walls.

"It's been 26 years that we've had the noise," he said.

Standing by the Nelsons, Jennifer Smith said she and her husband bought a house in the same south Minneapolis neighborhood because the real estate agent selling it said the airports commission planned to replace the 1927 home's windows and insulation and install air conditioning. Life has been noisy since they bought the house in 2001, she said.

"The whole frame just rattles," she said.

Rybak would not say how much the cities are spending on the lawsuit. Revealing that figure would give the airports commission an unfair advantage, he said.

Rybak conceded the lawsuit could be tough to litigate because aviation law is complicated. It is not clear whether the aviation industry is required to "clean up" noise pollution, Rybak said.

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press. (Beth Silver can be reached at or 612-338-6516.)