NJCAAN Files Suit To Obtain Agency Documents About Aircraft Noise Impacts
Scotch Plains, NJ --- The New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise (NJCAAN) has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) citing the agency's failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) with regard to the development of the NY/NJ/PHL Airspace Redesign Project, a major reevaluation of all the airplane routes in the tri-State region. The project should affect aircraft noise impacts on millions of citizens in the region.
The suit alleges that the FAA improperly withheld routing and noise modeling from NJCAAN while, at the same time, sharing that information with aviation industry groups. The suit also alleges that the agency failed to hold open meetings with industry groups when considering different routing options.
In June 2003, NJCAAN filed a FOIA request seeking information from the FAA regarding the routing proposals for the Redesign Project. After the passage of many months and administrative appeals, the agency denied NJCAAN's request citing that the project was under development and any communication that the agency has with its contractors is protected under a deliberative process provision.
NJCAAN believes that the deliberative process provision is unfounded in this case because, among other things, the agency has provided detailed modeling to aviation industry parties outside of the advisory committee process, which is intended to be open.
"The FAA refuses to be an honest broker, choosing to work exclusively with the airlines and turning a deaf ear to citizens affected by these aircraft patterns. Unfortunately, we had no alternative but to seek legal action against the agency". Robert Belzer, senior vice president of NJCAAN.
Since 1987 the New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise has advocated for citizen involvement in environmental issues throughout the state, and promotes ocean routing as a sensible alternative to noise pollution in the metropolitan area. NJCAAN's airspace plans use industrial areas, ocean airspace, higher altitudes and other procedures for noise abatement. These plans bring significant relief to over one million citizens affected by aircraft noise from Newark International Airport; to Bergen and Passaic County residents affected by LaGuardia International Airport; and to Monmouth and Ocean County residents affected by Kennedy International Airport. For further information, please go to NJCAAN's Web site at www.njcaan.org.
The RTCA is chartered by the FAA as an advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act and is currently comprised of roughly 250 governmental (including the FAA), airlines, aviation services, consultants and other member organizations. For instance, Continental Airlines, Federal Express, and Southwest Airlines are members of the RTCA committees that are involved in development of the Redesign with the FAA. Provisions of the FACA require public participation in advisory committee activities, which include:
¢ publish meeting minutes and other reports reviewed at closed meetings for public review; and
¢ committee recommendations should flow through the committee deliberations process and not directly to the agency outside of the public eye.
The FAA's public disclosure of its activities with the RTCA has been limited to cursory minutes of committee meetings. NJCAAN believes that this information falls far short of the intent of the FACA. NJCAAN is seeking this information to comment on the Redesign Project.
The FAA has yet to publish a detailed report-- due by April 1, 2004-- on all components of the redesign project mandated by the 2004 Department of Transportation (DOT) Bill. The report must include all noise reduction and ocean routing modeling. Both Representatives Frelinghuysen and Rothman serve on the House Committee on Appropriations. (The language from the Appropriations Bill is listed below.)
DEPARTMENTS OF TRANSPORTATION AND TREASURY AND INDEPENDENT AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2004
National airspace redesign- The Committee directs that, of the funds provided for national airspace redesign, not less than $6,500,000 shall be allocated to airspace redesign activities in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. The Committee also directs FAA to submit, not later than April 1, 2004 a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on the New York/New Jersey airspace redesign effort. This report should include details on all planned components and elements of the redesign project, including details on aircraft noise reduction and any ocean routing modeling that has been conducted.