Chantilly's Pleasant Valley community is less than three miles away from the southernmost point of the new, fourth runway planned for Dulles International Airport.
But the noise-monitoring station closest to those residents is about five miles away at the Chantilly Post Office. Since 1998, that station has registered average yearly aircraft noise between 61-65 decibels.
THE FEDERAL AVIATION Administration (FAA) uses 65 decibels as the acceptable limit, and it and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) say noise from the new runway shouldn't adversely affect Pleasant Valley residents because they're supposedly outside that limit.
But to make sure, the residents want a noise-monitor installed closer to them. It would provide a baseline of their current noise exposure and enable them to see if — and how much — it changes once the new runway is operational.
At Tuesday night's meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee, Neal Phillips, MWAA's noise-abatement officer, brought them good news.
"We're going through the procurement process now, and we'll be able to buy all the monitors we want," he said. "I suspect four, and possibly six, new sites will come to Dulles."
Phillips said the fourth runway is currently under construction and will probably be finished in late 2008/early 2009. But, he stressed, "Traffic on it will be primarily landings from the north and takeoffs to the north. Very little of it should come through this area."
Regarding noise-monitoring, he said 12 stations are arrayed around the airport, "from Union Mill Elementary to Aldie and other places in between. As part of a noise study, a few years ago, we asked [the FAA] for more money for a new noise system. We were denied, but my boss said we'd buy it."
AS THINGS stand now, there are 32 total noise-monitoring stations for both National and Dulles airports. "If we go to 40, I'd argue for 20 at National and 20 at Dulles," said Phillips. "We'll start installing them in August, and that should take four or five months."
He said most of the existing 12 stations around Dulles are in "good locations and provide good information." To determine where the new sites should be located, the Council of Governments' (COG) Aviation Policy Committee will contact county-government representatives from both Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
Phillips said they've already spoken with Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) for his input. He also said that Noel Kaplan, senior environmental planner with Fairfax County's Department of Planning and Zoning, "will handle it for the county and get recommendations from people regarding where to put them."
In order to be a viable site, explained Phillips, the location should be on public property and should have open access, a power source and communication capability. He suggested that recommendations be sent to people's local supervisor. In this case, Frey, at email@example.com.
"We'll choose three, potential sites for each noise-monitor," said Phillips. "Then COG's committee, county government, my staff and the installing vendor will look at each site for its technical capability."
Acting on suggestions already received, he said, "We've checked Pleasant Valley Golf Course and the Cub Run Rec Center and there are places where one could work. But we'll look at them all."
The reality, said Phillips, is that "it's a political issue. The people who know best where to put them live in Fairfax and Loudoun counties. So it's very much up to you and your elected officials where they go."
He said the monitors will be on top of a building "so the microphone would be about 20-25 feet high. That's where we get the most bang for the buck."
PLEASANT VALLEY'S Cynthia Shang asked what would happen if noise levels exceed the noise-decibel contour projected for Dulles. "I don't know that any will exceed it," replied Phillips. "It's an average number the aircraft create over a 24-hour period; [the noise] peaks and then it goes down."
She also asked what role the FAA has in where the equipment is sited, and Phillips answered, "They're not paying for it, so they have no say."
A fifth runway is also planned for Dulles. And, said Phillips, "When the fourth runway is complete, odds are we'll begin the preliminary work on the fifth runway." He said the earliest it's projected to open is 2012. Then, he added, "We'll do a revised Part 150 [airport-noise study] for Dulles, at that time."
Shang noted that Pleasant Valley residents also "have an issue with very late planes — UPS, Fed Ex — waking us up at 3 a.m. Is there any way this might alleviate that time frame?"
Phillips said that, if the contour encompasses churches, houses and schools, a committee consisting of supervisors, designated citizens, pilots, state aviation officials, etc., could be formed to decide what to do about it. Then it would send its recommendation to the FAA for its approval.
WFCCA's Scott Miller — the Pleasant Valley resident who initially brought the noise-monitoring issue to MWAA's attention — thanked Phillips for listening to the residents and being "receptive to laymen, like myself, who say there's a problem." Miller also thanked Del. Chuck Caputo (D-67th) for recently visiting his community to learn about its concerns in this matter.
In conclusion, Phillips said it's up to the FAA and the airlines to minimize noise: "The altitudes and vectors are all given to the pilots by the FAA."