Oakland Airport Settles Lawsuit Challenging Environmental Analysis of Development Plan

SEPTEMBER 27, 2002

An environmental lawsuit that threatened to delay the $1.4 billion expansion of Oakland International Airport was settled this week, opening the way for the project to be completed. In a deal the Port of Oakland Commission is scheduled to approve next week, the City of Alameda and two community groups agree that the port has promised to make enough changes in its plan to control noise levels and traffic congestion certain to come with the expansion.

"We basically reached an agreement," said Frank Kiang, president of the Port Commission. "They raised the question that certain aspects were not extensive enough. ... The port promised to do more."

The City of Alameda, along with Citizens League for Airport Safety and Serenity and Berkeley Keep Jets Over the Bay, had sued the Port of Oakland, arguing that its environmental impact report for the expansion was incomplete. The Alameda City Council approved the settlement behind closed doors Tuesday, giving City Attorney Carol Korade permission to sign off on it.

The same groups also sued the Federal Aviation Administration over its approval of that report. That suit also will be settled through the agreement. The groups said the report did not adequately address the impact of jet noise, air pollution and traffic.

The airport expansion calls for adding a new parking garage and completely revamping both terminals. It will add 17 gates and expand cargo facilities to accommodate more cargo jets. Construction of a six-story parking garage and a double-decker road loop in front of the new terminal also is planned.

Port officials fought the suit through the state Court of Appeals, saying they feared it would substantially delay construction, which in turn would drastically increase the project's cost. They began settlement talks last November after the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

"The settlement is a good thing," said David Needle, a member of the group that sued. "We are positive on the results."

Officials refused to release details of the deal Thursday because it must be approved by the Port Commission. But a source close to the negotiations said the two most important elements of the agreement deal with the way planes take off and with improvements to various intersections in Alameda. The source said the port agreed to encourage the FAA to get airline pilots to use a less obtrusive takeoff pattern, commonly known as the Silent 7. That pattern has airplanes flying straight over San Francisco Bay before turning, resembling a numeral 7 in the process.

The agreement also forces all four parties to continue talking throughout the airport expansion and sets limits on the size of cargo warehouses.

Although both sides already agreed earlier this year to allow the port to continue working on its expansion program by hiring consultants, the recent settlement ensures the work should be completed without further delays. "My understanding is that all the deal points have been taken care of," said John Glover, deputy executive director of the port. "The only thing we need to do now is schedule the signing ceremony."

Source: Oakland Tribune