County Joins Lawsuit to Block Expansion and Noise at St. Louis Airport

NOVEMBER 23,1998

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports St. Charles County, Missouri, has joined the cities of St. Charles and Bridgeton in taking legal action against expansion at Lambert Field Airport. The lawsuit objects to increased noise among other issues.

According to the article, the St. Charles County Council met Thursday in closed session and agreed to file legal action aimed at blocking the construction of a runway, approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The approved plan would be two miles closer to the city of St. Charles and bring descending aircraft lower by 450 feet or more over the city. County Counselor Joann Leykam said she expected to file a "petition of review" by Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th District.

The petition is expected to outline the county's position that the procedure used by the FAA to choose W-1W (the runway project) was flawed, and that the new runway will not solve the airport's long-range need to expand capacity. The petition will stress the council's long-standing noise complaint. Similar petitions seeking the court's review of the FAA decision have been filed by the cities of Bridgeton and St. Charles. The county's petition is expected to be incorporated with those for review by the court.

The article reports the first objections in the county to the W-1W plan were expressed by County Executive Joe Ortwerth. In the summer of 1996, Ortwerth insisted that the FAA expand its study of alternate runway plans as only two plans were being given final consideration. Ortwerth's proposal that the FAA conduct a study of "all viable alternatives" was rejected by an FAA official.

Ortwerth expressed concern then that a runway extending westward from the current terminal would increase noise to unacceptable levels. Ortwerth told the FAA in late June of 1996 that by restricting the number of runway plans to consider, "You will have conducted a bogus comparison of dubious alternatives." He intensified his campaign after a study was released two weeks later indicating that the average noise levels over parts of St. Charles could increase by 50 percent and that peak aircraft noise would be considerably worse. Ortwerth increased his efforts when the FAA released its final environmental impact statement that approved the W-1W expansion.

In a 23-page formal comment dated Jan. 29, 1998, Ortwerth told the FAA that its environmental impact statement failed altogether to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. He called the impact statement "one of the most intellectually dishonest documents ever authorized by the federal government." He said that the purpose and need for the project "has been perverted," that a full range of alternatives had not been evaluated, that "adverse impacts have not been honestly examined" and finally that the contractor who prepared the environmental documents has a conflict of interest that "corrupts the EIS document and leaves it open to substantial legal challenge."

Many of those allegations are included in the new petitions being filed by Bridgeton, St. Charles and the county.

The article states that, in contrast to Ortwerth's aggressive approach in opposition to W-1W, the County Council expressed concern in a resolution passed in 1996 about the potential noise problem but contended that airport expansion was necessary for the area's economic vitality. Lambert Director Leonard L. Griggs Jr. and representatives from the Regional Commerce and Growth Association visited St. Charles in an effort to persuade County Council members to get on the W-1W bandwagon. But instead, the council launched a campaign to persuade St. Louis (the owner of Lambert Field) to sign an agreement to control aircraft noise over St. Charles County.

With little success in that effort, the council then passed a resolution last month giving St. Louis 30 days to come up with a noise-control agreement or litigation would follow. A letter Nov. 13 from Francis G. Slay, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, made it clear that no such agreement would be forthcoming. After last week's decision by the council to take the litigation route, Ortwerth said he was "extremely pleased." He recognized that the council's lengthy deliberation over the matter was done "with a sincere desire to reach some amicable agreement with St. Louis over noise, if possible." But, he said, Slay's letter "verified what we already had determined, that such an agreement would not be enforceable."