Where there is smoke there is noise … Neighbors and Online Civic Engagement

Here is a secret – politicians don’t really care about opinions expressed online … that is unless they are from their actual voters. Then watch out, because then you will see real democratic change in action.

As we’ve added neighborhood level engagement with “community life” exchange to our classic city-wide online town halls, we’ve seen a twenty fold increase in the percentage of households in the area participating (from 1% to 20% in some areas). We’ve also seen a major embrace, at least in Minneapolis … hey, St. Paul we want you next … by city council members, park board members and others.

Check out these recent passionate community discussions on airport noise (89+ posts) in Standish Ericsson and recreational fires and smoke (55+ posts) in Longfellow.

The below is the impressive and responsive full text from two different city council members. Every local elected official, everywhere should be part of an online space that makes this happen. (An not just some surface-level Facebook page that cuts you off with a paragraph or two or some puff your chest out political tweets.)

First, from Councilmember Sandy Colvin Roy on airport noise and then second from Councilmember Cam Gordon.

Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy
From: Sandra Colvin Roy Date: Sep 15 15:26 UTC

Metropol itan Airport Commission (MAC) staff have responded to my inquiry about
an increase in airplane noise.  They confirmed through statistics, what you
have observed.  There has been an increase in flights going over Standish and
Ericsson.  Between January and August of last year, 16,093 flights went
directly over these neighborhoods and in 2011, 20,441 flight flew over. That
translates to an average of 67 flights per day for 2010 and average of 84
flights per day in 2011.  I have requested numbers going back five years in
order to get a longer term view of the situation.

The flights being directed over Standish Ericsson are coming off runway 30R.
Surprisingly, overall use of runway 30R actually went down quite a bit this
year compared to last so it is puzzling why there is an increase in planes
flying over these neighborhoods. When MAC staff inquired at the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) about the reason, they said the increase was due
to their policy of using runway 30R for north and east bound planes when there
are northwest [air] flow conditions present.   This still does not answer the
question for me because I am told that this is not a new policy.  So, why are
there more departures than before that fit this criterion?  I need to get
answers from the FAA.  I am scheduling a meeting with the Control Tower Manager
to discuss this because he determines which runway to use in accordance with
FAA rules.

MAC staff was also able to document that noise levels have increased. The
remote monitoring tower (RMT) located on Northrop Elementary (installed at my
insistance) showed average noise level for 2010 as 49.9 dB DNL and the average
noise level for 2011 as 51.1 dB DNL.  At Longfellow Avenue and 43rd Street, the
RMT reported average noise level went from 56.3 to 56.8 dB DNL.

Some residents had questions about fleet mix.  This is what Chad Leqve (Manager
- Noise, Environment and Planning at MAC) said in response to those questions:
“The general trend is that the aircraft fleetmix at MSP is getting quieter. The
DC9 aircraft, the loudest in the fleet for many years, is being removed from
the fleet. It is anticipated that in 2012 Delta will remove the last of the
DC9s from its fleet. Conversely, operations by A320/319, B737, MD80, MD 90 and
regional jets have increased over the neighborhoods in question. All of these
aircraft , with the exception of the MD80, are significantly quieter than the
DC9. The MD80 is quieter than the DC9, but not to the degree of the others
listed. Overall the aircraft fleetmix trend is in the right direction from a
noise perspective.”

Are the planes flying lower? MAC staff says there have been no changes to
flight operations (take-offs and landing procedures and flight tracks).  They
could think of no reason that the planes would be flying lower. This is another
topic I need to cover with FAA staff.

Some on this group have talked about the use of Performance Based Navigation
(such as RNAV).  These are navigation techniques that could impact how planes
take-off and land, flight tracks, and noise exposure and intensity.   However,
these techniques have not yet been implemented at MSP.  In fact, the FAA is
still in the process of developing the procedures for MSP.  The new proposed
procedures will go through a review process that will include public comment
and an environmental assessment.  New proposed flight tracks are expected to be
shared as early as this November. This will be a VERY important discussion.  I
will be keeping you informed about this process. We, as a community, will want
to be actively involved throughout.  We will also need to ensure that folks at
all level of government are engaged.

I don’t have all of the information we want right now but I knew you would be
anxious for an update. I will continue to work through various channels to
understand exactly what changes have occurred and why.  This is the first step
to possible improvements.  As you probably understand, I have no direct
authority over the airport’s activities but I will do everything I can to
advocate for our community.

I will not share details now since this is already a long post but you should
know that I have been working hard on your behalf (and for all people who are
impacted by airport noise) by fighting some potentially harmful proposed
federal legislation.  I have rallied the help of U.S. Senators Klobuchar and
Franken and Congressman Ellison. We are carefully monitoring work on
reauthorization of the FAA and working with people throughout the country to
protect the interests of airport adjacent communities. If you want to know more
about work on this issue, let me know.

In the meantime, please continue to share your concerns with MAC via their
noise hotline:              612-726-9411       or online complaint form:

Sandy Colvin Roy
Council Member, 12th Ward

Now the smoke:

From: Cam Gordon Date: Sep 16

I have been reading this thread with interest.

I have heard complaints about wood burning and recreational fires since first
being elected to the City Council in 2005 and this is a topic I have done some
research about. I have enjoyed wood fires all my life and I want the air we
breath to be safer and cleaner.

My understand is that the Minneapolis City government banned recreational fires
in the past and then reversed that decision before I was elected. The last time
the ordinance was amended was in 2003. The rules we have now appear to be
focused on fire safety and are pretty consistent with what other cities are
doing, although a more thorough study of what other mid- to large-sized cities
do has not been conducted recently as far as I know. There does seem to be a
difference in most people's minds between indoor fire places and outdoor yard
fires, although air quality studies often don't distinguish between the two.
The health experts also indicate that there is a difference between the types
of stoves or furnaces as well as the material burned. Certain wood stoves and
furnaces burn cleaner that others.

It is clear to me that people have strong feelings about this on both sides of
the issue.  Some people, depending perhaps on their health and on the frequency
of the recreational fires near their homes, consider recreational fires to be a
major health issue and something that dramatically affects their quality of
life and ability to enjoy their homes.

There is an easy to read article (Health Effects of Wood Smoke Exposure) about
this in this 2009 newsletter from the state health department (pages 5 and 6).

At this point I am convinced that there is room for improvement in our
approach.  I am not sure if the problem is with the ordinance or with its
enforcement, or with both. I am slowly moving to a position that says both
could be improved. The ordinance may need to be amended in some ways, perhaps
calling out air quality a little more clearly and adding some regulations or
restrictions related to it.  Currently, the ordinance says that recreational
fires shall not be conducted if prevailing wind conditions exceed ten m.p.h. I
believe it might make sense to also limit them during particularly dry periods,
or during times when air quality is especially bad.  Examining some kinds of
additional time restrictions may also be in order.  For those with asthma,
emphysema, or other breathing difficulties, it seems unreasonable that they
should have to endure wood fires burning next door most hours of most days.

Still, most of the complaints we hear about are about fires that violate some
portion of the City's existing recreational fire ordinance.  This tells me that
some of the problem is in compliance with the current ordinance and could be
addressed with improved public education about the issue and better
enforcement.  Last spring we were able to include a mailing about this with our
water bills.  You can see the insert here:

This issue came up recently for a brief discussion at a recent Council
Committee when we were reviewing our air quality sustainability indicator.  In
the months ahead I will be talking to colleagues, community members,  and staff
from both the Health and Regulatory as well as Fire department. I think that it
would also be very helpful if the appropriate committees of our neighborhood
organizations and our citywide Environmental and Public Health Advisory
Committees would also be take the time review and weigh in on the issue.

I am open to looking at possible changes both to the ordinance and to how we
enforce it.

It is clear to me that we, as a city, don't have a clear consensus about how to
handle this issue.  Perhaps, by sharing accurate, credible information and
keeping the conversation going, we can find one.

The conversation here may be one way to help do that.  Thank you all so much
for taking the time to write and read and care about our city.

Cam Gordon
Minneapolis City Council Member, Second Ward
673-2202, 296-0579
<email obscured>


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