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Locals sue FAA over aircraft noise

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For years, residents in Portola Valley, Ladera and along Skyline Boulevard have complained to Northern California aviation authorities about noise from commercial aircraft flying to San Francisco International Airport.

Now, backed by an online petition complaining about aircraft noise and listing the support of some 900 local residents, and a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration on the same subject signed by 26 members of the House of Representatives representing communities around the country, three residents from Woodside and one from Portola Valley have taken their concerns to federal court.

Jim Lyons, Mary Jane McCarthy and Frank Rothschild of Woodside and Tina Nguyen of Portola Valley filed a petition on Sept. 26 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The petition objects to findings by the FAA of no significant noise impact in an assessment of plans to optimize the future use of airspace above the Bay Area.

The petition is the first step toward a lawsuit, said attorney and Portola Valley resident Vic Schachter, who helped with the filing procedures. If residents cannot resolve their dispute with the FAA through a mediator, the court will set a schedule to file briefs and argue before the court.

The petitioners are being represented by San Francisco attorney Thomas V. Christopher.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said he had no comment since the FAA has not yet reviewed the petition.

The findings of "no significant noise impact" are based on a 313-page Aircraft Noise Technical Report published Aug. 7, 2014, by Santa Clara-based environmental impact analysis consultant ATAC Corporation. The conclusions are based on calculated rather than actual measurements of noise, and claim to represent conditions on the ground under flight paths in 2011, 2014 and 2019.

The law requires the FAA to analyze impacts to historic sites from its proposed actions. Of the 768 sites in the report, three are in Portola Valley -- the Wayside Village Church, Portola Valley School (now Town Center) and the Alpine Inn -- and two are in Woodside -- the Folger Estate stable and the Woodside Store.

New standards

An online petition at Change.org lists 1,103 names, most from Portola Valley, asking senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and representatives Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier to ask the FAA to reduce the amount of air traffic over Portola Valley and unincorporated communities in Ladera and along Skyline Boulevard.

The petition asks for actual measurements of noise and that pilots and air-traffic authorities live up to a 2001 agreement between Ms. Eshoo and the FAA on keeping aircraft above 8,000 feet when flying over the Woodside navigation beacon and 5,000 feet over the Menlo Interchange beacon.

Go to this link to view the petition.

In a Sept. 12 letter to the FAA, 26 members of the House, including Ms. Eshoo and Ms. Speier, express disappointment with the FAA in addressing noise pollution. The standard in use, the letter says, is no longer reliable in measuring the "true impact" of aircraft noise, and air traffic shows no signs of diminishing.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommended a lower standard in 1974, the letter says. The FAA's traditional noise abatement efforts to avoid "severe and immediate health impacts" are important, the letter says, but so are quality of life, long-term health impacts, home values and economic impact.

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