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Town Responds to Runway Expansion

Letter addresses noise and air-quality mitigation plans for Dulles Airport.

Mayor Michael O'Reilly has sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration offering the town's position on two proposed Washington Dulles International Airport runway expansions that, if constructed, could have a negative impact on Herndon.

In the letter, dated March 7, O'Reilly addressed two concerns that town staff deemed most important based on preliminary research of the expansion.

The first concern asks the FAA to give full consideration to the development and implementation of a noise-mitigation plan.

The second concern recognizes the already questionable air quality of the area, asking the FAA to develop state-of-the-art air-quality mitigation.

On Feb. 23 the FAA held a meeting for Herndon-area residents to voice concerns surrounding the proposed expansion.

From that meeting the FAA planned to include all comment received up until Monday, March 7, in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

Jim Peters, spokesman for the FAA, said once public comment is added to the DEIS it will be submitted for review before a decision is made on either of the two possible runway expansion proposals or if a no-build recommendation will be determined.

"The FAA is trying to determine what would best meet the purpose and needs of the proposed projects and the needs of the facility," he said of the review process before a final draft is submitted.

IN MID-JANUARY the FAA released a DEIS detailing Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's proposal to add two runways and conduct additional improvements at Dulles Airport.

In the plan, MWAA proposes to construct an additional north-south and east-west runway, parallel and connector taxi-ways, concourse developments and navigational aids.

Peters said as of now a final draft statement is "expected to be completed for public review in the early fall — around September."

From there he said there will be a required 30-day public comment period, but he added, the FAA plans to wait until late 2005 before approving the MWAA construction proposal.

Although the FAA created a master development plan in 1985 when it first operated Dulles, by 1987 the MWAA was leasing the airport, which transferred responsibility.

Since then the development plans have been altered based on the evolution of air travel and MWAA said the recommended projects in the master plan study, if constructed, will enable Dulles Airport to "safely and efficiently accommodate existing and future levels of aviation operational demand."

Currently Dulles Airport reports approximately 400,000 flights annually, with projections increasing by almost 200,000 flights in 2005.

Peters said estimated annual flights are based on historical trends, what the FAA sees as the industry evolving and sometimes guestimation.

He added if the FAA determines the need is there to expand the runways and one of the two alternatives is approved, because of permit regulations and other development regulations, construction would most likely begin in 2006.

Until then, Herndon residents like Charlie Waddell — who supports the expansion of air travel but not at the expense of Herndon's positive quality of life — plan to do all they can to offer alternative suggestions to the FAA.

"The new arrival flight paths will bring more air traffic over Herndon," said Waddell.

FROM HIS HOUSE behind the Herndon Community Center, Waddell said there are nights when he can hear jet-engines revving up at the airport as well as some overhead flights of older airplanes from inside his house.

"We need a noise abatement procedure," he said.

Based on initial information provided to the town, O'Reilly said town staff was monitoring the proposal, but had been told there were no negative impacts projected for the town.

That has changed since the Feb. 23 meeting.

"We note that the [DEIS] shows a new departure pattern not shown in previous analyses, extending from the north-south runways and looping to ascend directly over the center of the Town of Herndon," said O'Reilly in his letter.

In an attempt to prevent planes from flying directly over the town, O'Reilly has suggested the noise-mitigation plan.

"Our understanding is that such a mitigation or compatibility plan has been in effect for Reagan National Airport for a number of years," O'Reilly said in the letter. "We believe that noise-abatement measures need to be deployed to protect residential areas that are subjected to regular, high levels of aviation noise."

O'Reilly said in addition, the town would like to not only see flight patterns addressed but also on-ground jet maintenance tests.

Through the program, town staff has supplied nine ways to gradually achieve the suggested solutions.

Those include everything from the creation of a noise compatibility program to include public review and input to creating a goal of quieter fleet mix for evening hours — between 8 and 10 p.m.

Peters said because he had not read O'Reilly's comments he could not comment on them, but added it was "too early to speculate on [a noise abatement] proposal" because the FAA wouldn't be able to focus on the outcome of the project until the draft statement is complete.

Waddell said although representatives at the FAA hearing were compliant and receptive to residents' concerns, the impression he has gotten from officials is "forget about it" when it comes to a noise-abatement policy.

"The airport is increasing their air traffic pass-through at record-breaking levels," he said about projected annual flight numbers, adding last year's flight numbers exceeded projections.

In addition, he said the reasoning that the Herndon area is "rural" and a noise-abatement plan is not necessary is incorrect and as the town continues to develop and with Loudoun County quickly expanding, Dulles Airport will soon be surrounded by an urban area.

O'REILLY'S SECOND suggestion was to create an air-quality mitigation plan.

Because the Herndon area is subject to strict air-quality requirements and provisions, O'Reilly proposed Dulles Airport review its standings.

"Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments information shows that at times the environs of Dulles Airport have some of the worst air-quality readings in the region," he stated. "Although new runways should help minimize on-ground jet idling due to departure delays, we believe that additional mitigation should be implemented."

For this O'Reilly suggested using recent technologies and procedures to help reduce aircraft emissions and to implement an advanced fuel handling and refueling operation to help reduce emissions.

He also suggested the airport try to convert ground transportation vehicles, including shuttles, to use clean fuel practices.

Although public comment has closed on the proposed expansion, the public can view a complete copy of the DEIS at the MWAA Web site, www.mwaa.com/dulles/EnvironmentalStudies/RunwayEIS.htm, as well as add additional comments in September when the final draft statement is released.