Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Airport neighbors barely miss buyout

Homeowners just outside federally-mandated line

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From left, Kim Haight, David West and Dolores Halderman are tired of the noise from arriving and departing aircraft near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/MICHAEL E. KEATING
HEBRON - When Dolores Halderman and her husband bought a house here in the Bluebird subdivision four years ago, they knew the nearby airport and the drone of jets would be a constant issue.

Little did they know that a matter of feet would make the difference between getting to move at the airport's expense or staying put.

A computer-generated noise boundary set by the federal government falls across the development of 30-plus houses just north of one of the airport's runways.

As a result, six homeowners in the neighborhood have been bought out by the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport with money from user fees. Owners whose homes are yards away, but outside the line, are stuck with the noise.

A study of the noise program is heading into a public-comment phase today and Thursday with a pair of open forums in Erlanger and Delhi Township. Any expansion of the current noise boundary would probably encompass the entire Bluebird subdivision.

Halderman would welcome that news, since she then would be eligible for a buyout.

The 53-year-old retiree says she bought the three-bedroom brick ranch for $109,000 in 2000. A recent appraisal set its value at $115,000. She says she was not informed that the home sat so close to the noise boundary during negotiations.

Here are the dates and times of the initial public workshops for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport's noise study update
• Today, 5-7 p.m., Receptions, 1379 Donaldson Road, Erlanger.
• Thursday, 5-7 p.m., The Farm, 219 Anderson Ferry Road, Delhi Township
For more information, call the airport's noise abatement office at 859-767-7020.
"I can't afford to sell it right now," Halderman says in her living room, which shakes as flights pass by every few minutes. "I live in a no-man's land - too close to the noise but not close enough to get help. And you can't tell me that it's any quieter here, less than a hundred feet from where they tore down the other houses. So I say buy me out. I'm not trying to make a killing."

Hundreds more homeowners around the airport could be eligible for a buyout program or for other assistance (such as purchase assurance, which compensates a home seller for a noise-reduced home value, or noise proofing) as the result of the noise study, which will take two years.

Two new runways, which are costing $252 million, are west of the Bluebird subdivision, so the new flights on them are not expected to expand the noise belt in the subdivision. But overall increased traffic could, airport officials say.

65 decibels key

Since 1992, when the last new runway opened at the airport, the scenario in Bluebird has been repeated all over Northern Kentucky. Federal regulations require the airport to either soundproof or buy out any residential owners inside the so-called 65-decibel day/night limit.

Determined by a computer-simulation program, the noise inside the limit line is akin to hearing a vacuum cleaner from 10 feet away, and, according to the regulations, it goes on day and night.

Airport and federal aviation officials say they understand frustrations of residents such as Halderman and her neighbors.

"But we do have to set the line somewhere," says Rusty Chapman, manager of the airport's division for the Federal Aviation Administration's Southern Region, which oversees and must approve any noise programs at the local airport. "There are unique situations that do sometimes merit crossing the line, but they're pretty rare."

Airport officials say they were able to get clearance from the FAA to buy out a few subdivisions in the past several years, even though the line cut those neighborhoods in half.

To get that dispensation, more than half of those neighborhoods needed to be inside the contour. That's not the case in Bluebird.

"The more difficult situations are because we use natural breaks at an intersection or road to set the boundary," says Barb Schempf, the airport's noise abatement manager. "And we'll get people living on the same road but not in a subdivision set apart by a couple hundred feet. We can only say that the line is the line."

The airport has spent about $135 million on noise abatement since 1992, with the money coming from a $2.50 federal "passenger facility charge" fee assessed on each ticket to and from here.

More new homes

Yet some home builders have begun construction on new homes inside the existing noise contours, which is their right.

Schempf and Dale Huber, the airport's deputy aviation director, say those builders are required to notify potential buyers that the houses are in a noise area. They add that the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission has turned down some developers who wanted to build other new homes inside the noise belts.

Anything built inside the existing noise contour after December 2000 is not eligible for federally funded sound assistance, which includes insulation, purchase assistance and buyouts, Schempf says.

"During times of economic growth, there are demands placed on the lands people want to live on, and this whole thing is a series of compromises," Huber says.

David West, who lives next door to Halderman, hopes a compromise comes soon.

"I can't stand to see this subdivision disappear brick by brick and the value of my home slowly get lower and the prices driven down," West says. He bought his house for $85,500 in 1998, and a recent appraisal valued it at $110,000 - about $15,000 less than an appraisal the previous year.

"I had actually thought when I bought it that I was sitting on a potential goldmine because of the development boom around the airport. That is definitely not the case."


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