City to study impact of jet noise

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Now that officials have claimed that the Renton Airport will remain a status-quo operation without a corporate jet center, city leaders on Mercer Island want to monitor the noise impact from the airplanes currently flying over the Island.

During a recent City Council meeting, Councilmembers instructed city staff to determine the details of monitoring the airspace above the Island and the cost of contracting such a study.

Linda Herzog, a city consultant who has been working on Renton Airport issues, said she estimates the cost would be around $57,000. That money would fund two monitoring stations that would capture and retain noise data. She also said that the consulting firm which the city and Renton hired for the jet center noise study, Harris Miller Miller and Hanson, could provide the service. Yet, she also warned that such noise monitoring studies are not recognized by the FAA.

Councilmember Mike Grady suggested that the city obtain the baseline data by monitoring the airplane noise as it is today, without a jet center or seaplane base.

“Now that we have a status-quo operation, we should start collecting that data,” Grady said.

Councilmember Mike Cero, who campaigned last year with the Renton Airport as a top issue, agreed the monitoring was needed.

“It’s important to baseline now,” Cero said. “The conditions will only decrease from where we are now, and changes can be compared to the relative quietness we have on the Island.”

Herzog said that without a corporate jet center and advancing technologies, the Island may experience less airplane noise in the future — which is what City Councilmembers said they hope the noise monitoring shows.

“If aircraft do get quieter over time, there may be even less disturbance than there is now,” Herzog said.

Councilmembers also asked about the proposed curved approach over the East Channel that would reduce airplane noise and be safer, according to Grady. Herzog said the FAA will approve the flight pattern this November, but Renton would not pursue the curved approach without the jet center.

Councilmember El Jahncke cast the lone vote against the motion to move forward. He said he wouldn’t support spending money until he knew precisely what the city would get out of it. A subsequent vote will be needed to direct city administration to begin the study and spend the money.

“I won’t vote for that until I see what the city will get for $57,000. That needs to be shown to me,” Jahncke said.

During master planning sessions regarding the airport, Renton officials began considering a corporate jet center after Boeing announced it would not renew its lease of one section. Boeing, however, is now negotiating with Renton to continue leasing that section, which is where the jet center would have been. Officials state there is not room for both Boeing and a jet center.

“It was sort of an ‘oops’ from Boeing, releasing the space they leased before they did a thorough analysis of their need,” Herzog said.

While the exact terms of the lease have not been finalized, Herzog estimated Boeing indicated it would lease the space “long-term,” or at least 10 years. Cero said he supported the noise monitoring because it “isn’t a question of if Boeing leaves, it’s when.”

“We will find ourselves in the same situation if we do not take advantage today. Change in production of the 737 is inevitable,” Cero said.

Councilmember Steve Litzow was concerned about the impacts from the increase in Boeing production; however, Herzog said 737s only fly out of the airport, so if Boeing’s production rate or volume increased, it would be likely that more 737s would take off.

The Council approved another motion that amended the agreement between the city and Renton. The amendment enabled Renton to select a design that enables Boeing to expand its 737 production at the airport.

Councilmember Dan Grausz also suggested the amended agreement, which expires at the end of the year, be revised such that it becomes permanent.

“We should be replacing this with a long-term [agreement] that addresses the concerns heard tonight for framework, the next time this happens.”

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