Minneapolis Airport Noise Settlement: $130 Million Relief

OCTOBER 17, 2007

Thousands of additional homeowners would get up to $130 million in work to muffle airplane noise under a proposed legal settlement approved unanimously Monday by the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

The settlement would end a lawsuit brought by Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan against the MAC and also could end a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 8,100 homeowners in the same area. It could mean as much as $45,000 apiece in noise-abatement work for a few hundred homes. But most would be eligible for far less work.

The amount doubles the roughly $65 million MAC offered to settle the class-action noise lawsuit earlier this year. Airline lease fees and airport concession! income would finance the work, MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

MAC chair Jack Lanners called the settlement with the cities "a reasonable, financially responsible plan." City attorneys estimated the deal will cost MAC $127 million, while MAC estimated as much as $130 million. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak hailed it as an "incredible agreement."

The Minneapolis City Council is to meet at 12:30 p.m. today to consider the settlement. Richfield's council will consider it at a 5:30 p.m. meeting, while Eagan's council meets at 6:30 p.m. Hogan said the proposal would also help some homeowners in Bloomington and possibly Mendota Heights.

The settlement provides aid for at least 7,900 households, and possibly as many as about 9,700. They're mostly households that didn't qualify for the first round of MAC's insulation program in areas most severely affected by noise. That ended in 2005 with $246 million spent.

For a majority of households, the settlement would likely mean central air-conditioning or money for other noise-reducing projects if they already have air conditioning.

Still, the deal will cost MAC more money and affect more homeowners than the settlement proposed in the class-action suit. Only 4,400 of those homeowners would have gotten noise help, and the money per household was less.

Monday's settlement approval is contingent on approval by the Federal Aviation Administration and by those homeowners who brought the class-action suit. The homeowners' attorney, Carolyn Anderson, said: "I'm anticipating they'll be very supportive." She said that the settlement the cities obtained built on the work in the proposed settlement in her case. She said MAC wasn't willing to put all its money on the table in the class-action settlement proposal, knowing the cities' case was pending.

"Finally, justice is being served for people who deserve protection for the largest investment they'll make -- their home," Rybak said in a statement. "We finally have vindication for what we've been saying all along: that the MAC has a duty to protect people from airport noise pollution."

The cities filed their lawsuit alleging MAC had broken a commitment to insulate homes in the 60- to 64-decibel range when it expanded the current airport rather than build a more remote new site. Hennepin County District Judge Stephen Aldrich, who handled both lawsuits, found in one procedural ruling that MAC committed to spend up to $150 million on lowering noise by five decibels in those homes. But it later adopted a $48 million program, prompting the cities' lawsuit.

Rather than issue his expected ruling on Aug. 24 on the cities' lawsuit, Aldrich prodded the cities, MAC, and intervenor Northwest Airlines to settle.

A new feature of the settlement is that owners of single-family homes who sell within two years of getting noise help may have to repay 25 percent of the cost, up to $3,500.

Hogan said that if any home on a block qualifies for work, all homes on the block would be eligible for some work.

Source: Star Tribune

See also: South Metro Airport Action Council's Statement on the Lawsuit