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Noise study upsets Islanders

Renton Airport noise study to offer analysis not answers

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Capture the existing tranquil quiet of the Island on tape and find ways to discourage disruptive flights over the Island were two demands made by 40 residents concerned about changes at the Renton Airport.

Last Tuesday, the city hosted a public meeting at the community center to explain the goals of a $130,000 noise study to be shared with the city of Renton.

The purpose of the event was to learn about noise and the science or methodology behind the study, Councilmember El Jahncke said at the meeting.

But most of those who attended were not interested in the methods to be employed in the noise study. Some audience members frequently interrupted the presentation, asking for Island-specific data as part of the study and urging the city leaders in attendance to be cautious of the next steps taken at the Renton Airport.

The city of Renton has proposed five alternative designs for its airport, located two miles directly south across Lake Washington from the south shore of the Island. Many landing aircraft fly directly over the center of the Island as they approach the runway.

The airport proposals include the construction of a corporate jet center, which would presumably attract more business flights to the airport, maintaining the airport’s traditional recreational focus or implement one of three various combinations of those two uses. The two cities agreed to pay $65,000 each for a noise study that will create model projections demonstrating the potential noise impacts of each option.

Many Islanders in the crowd voiced their concerns that more business jets flying over the Island to land at Renton would bring harmful changes to the present calm and secluded environment they are used to. Several said they want a recording along Island Crest Way as a reference point to how much noise the Island experiences today.

“Start with the sound quality we enjoy now,” resident Sam Hobson suggested to the experts. “These measures and other things talked about here are not meaningful when you’re bothered in the middle of the night.”

Several residents took a turn at the microphone after the main presentation concluded.

Bob Baker, a retired military and commercial airline pilot, said he was concerned with the city of Renton’s plan to attract more business jet traffic while major ports such as SeaTac and Boeing Field are shooing them away with increasingly expensive landing fees.

“I don’t see the reason to go through with this,” Baker said. “There doesn’t need to be business jets going into Renton. And I don’t like the comment that the airport must allow landings. There have been communities that instituted curfews.”

Mary Ellen Eagan and Bob Miller of Harris, Miller, Miller, and Hanson Inc., made the presentation before the group of Islanders. The pair explained the types of data and calculations required for the study.

“We will look at radar data and develop some worst-case scenarios so we can draw comparisons for each option,” Miller said.

“In airport planning across the nation, there are always trade-offs. It’s our job to present those trade-offs as part of the decision-making process,” he said.

Among their many requests, some Islanders also demanded to know what types of aircraft will use the Renton airport. In previous meetings and reports, airport officials and business operators have stated quiet turbo-prop planes are the aircraft they seek to attract by building the corporate jet center. However, it appears Islanders are hearing something different.

“It’s not these light jets that everybody is talking about that are flying over the Island,” Lisa Belden O’Meara said. “It’s very loud ones flying extremely low.”

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