Judge Blasts Airport for Withholding Noise Data from Critics

MAY 13, 2000

Saying "citizens are entitled" to the data, a judge set a Monday deadline for the release of noise levels measured around Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Kent County Circuit Judge Paul Sullivan seemed frustrated by the airport's failure to give the information to a watchdog group, which is concerned about noise along the north-south runway.

On Monday Sullivan said the one-page document must be released under Michigan's freedom-of-information law. By Friday, however, the Coalition for Responsible Aviation was back in court complaining that it still didn't have the data.

The group said the information is crucial in judging the credibility of a new noise-exposure map for areas surrounding the airport. The updated map will be released 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Crowne Plaza hotel on 28th Street SE.

"What's the big deal here? ... Citizens want to review it, study it, and comment intelligently on it," Sullivan said.

The map will be an important tool for land-use planning and also will help determine whether homeowners bothered by noise will qualify for public help. If residents don't get quick access to the raw noise statistics, "the whole process is a sham," the judge said.

An attorney for the Kent County Aeronautics Board, a public agency that oversees the airport, said the information was not immediately released because the board has 21 days to consider an appeal of Sullivan's earlier ruling. "We're asking the court to honor procedure," attorney James Wernstrom said.

Sullivan said the data must be surrendered by 1 p.m. Monday. Wernstrom didn't know whether the Aeronautics Board would appeal the decision.

From the board's perspective, the dispute is "not about a document. It's about the integrity of the system," Wernstrom said outside court. "It seems like it's much ado about nothing, but it's much about technicalities." The board had claimed the document was produced by a private contractor and could not be released. Sullivan, however, disagreed, noting the information was ordered by a public agency using public money.

"Look at how much money the county is spending to keep this data out of our hands? It's obscene," said Richard Robertson of Caledonia Township. "We would have liked it four months ago."

Source: Grand Rapids (MI) Press