Vancouver Residents Plan Legal Action to Fight Airport Noise

DECEMBER 3, 1997

The Vancouver Sun (News; page B1 / Front) reports that Vancouver, Canada area residents are preparing to take legal action to fight airport, noise and the third runway at the Vancouver International Airport which has prompted a rise in noise complaints.

The report asks, how do you know when you are living too close to the flight path of Vancouver International Airport's third runway? When your friends can look out the window of an incoming passenger jet and identify your guests by the cars in your driveway.

The report describes how that is the strange-but-true reality for Barry and Lynda Walsh, whose house at 9520 Beckwith Road is lodged deep in the troubled heart of Richmond's west Bridgeport residential area. The couple claimed Tuesday that since the opening last November of the airport's third runway on the north side of Sea Island, their ordinary lives have become a screaming hell. Simple backyard activities such as barbecues and gardening are unbearable. Over-the-fence chats between neighbors inevitably stop when an aircraft approaches. Even double-glazed windows cannot stop the racket from drowning out the TV.

According to the article, while the rumble of a train going through a neighborhood might be romantic, Bridgeport residents say, no one gets used to the high-pitched screech of an aircraft as it comes in to land. "It makes me crazy," said Lynda Walsh. "It's loud and very bothersome. You can't stop it, but you can't live this way, either. I'm in a bad mood, anxious, even before my first cup of coffee." To determine the exact noise level, the Walshes hired a Richmond consulting firm, Schneider Canada, to conduct an independent test outside their home over a 90-minute period during the morning of Feb. 12. Based on 27 readings, the study found the ambient noise level -- 65 decibels -- increased to as high as 91 decibels as aircraft passed low overhead on their approach to the third runway.

The report describes how under the decibel system, sound does not increase steadily along a simple numeric scale. For example, just a three-decibel increase in sound effectively doubles the energy exposure. According to provincial Workers' Compensation Board regulations, employees are safe from an exposure of 85 decibels over eight hours, without hearing protection. The period of safety drops to four hours at 88 decibels and to two hours at 91 decibels.

The article says Bridgeport's estimated 200-300 residents have discovered not all aircraft are created equal since the runway opened. "Propellers aren't as bad," said Barry Walsh, a self-employed electrician. "The DC-9 is one of the worst. Unbelievable. And the 747? It looks like it's coming right into your house it's so huge." Morning and dinner time are busiest on the third runway, he added, with planes landing as frequently as every 90 seconds. Richmond and Vancouver residents have lost round one in their battle with the Vancouver International Airport Authority and the federal government for financial compensation over the third runway.

According to the article, The British Columbia Supreme Court ruled this month that the complaints against the airport were too diverse to allow one class action, leaving open the potential for smaller, similar groups to pursue their own lawsuits. Residents are meeting with legal counsel Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Tait elementary to consider their options.

The report says Barry Walsh claimed he and Lynda moved into their 70-square-metre (3,000-square-foot) home on a .2-hectare (half-acre) lot in 1991 after being told by Richmond's planning department that the third runway approach would be over the Fraser River, farther to the north. "It was a dead-end street, really quiet," he said, insisting background traffic noise from Oak Street Bridge only about one block away didn't pose a problem. "But nobody would buy here residentially any more. Who would want to live under a flight path?" Municipal planner Ian Chiang, whose jurisdiction includes west Bridgeport between No. 4 Road and the Fraser River, said he cannot recall any such conversation. He said that according to maps provided by Vancouver airport, it is clear that the third-runway approach is over west Bridgeport and not over the Fraser River. "I wouldn't have said it goes over the river because I know better." Chiang did hold out some hope for residents seeking a financial way out of their bind. A draft planning report to Richmond council in one year will recommend that west Bridgeport gradually be rezoned from residential to commercial-industrial. Exactly when, or if, the rezoning happens will depend on council and market forces, he said. "We don't see a residential future in there. But it will take time for those houses to phase out."

The report describes how the airport's third runway is open for landings between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Exceptions are made in emergencies or during maintenance or snow removal on the other runways. The number of airport- noise complaints in Richmond in the June-August period increased to 1,626 in 1997 from 99 in 1996. In Vancouver, the number of complaints in the same period rose to 354 from 68. In the Bridgeport area alone, residents lodged 1,403 complaints, 72 per cent of them over jet noise. Just over one-third of all landings at Vancouver airport in that period occurred over Bridgeport. Although incoming aircraft violate Richmond's noise bylaw, aircraft are exempt under federal regulations. "I support quiet neighborhoods," said Kelvin Higo, Richmond's chief public health inspector. "But there's not a lot we can do in this case. Sympathy doesn't carry too far." Complaints will grow next year as the booming airport begins using the third runway for takeoffs in peak hours. Despite repeated phone calls from The Sun, no airport officials responsible for noise monitoring or environmental control were willing to comment. The airport authority and federal government have argued that residents who bought homes under the flight path of the third runway should have known what they were doing and can't now sue for damages.