Monday, June 24, 2024

ILM noise study underway, residents concerned about its effectiveness at open house

A group of people to gather more information about the Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study underway at ILM. (Port City Daily/Caroline Horne)

WILMINGTON — Sheila Gasquet, a resident of the Northside neighborhood in downtown Wilmington, grew up on an Air Force base, so she’s accustomed to the sounds of planes. 

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“I support the military,” she said. “I think we do need a robust airport, but being downtown … the noise from certain aircraft are really not compatible with us.”

Gasquet said the noise of military planes often rattles her windows. She was one of 50 people who gathered in Snipes Gymnasium on Thursday evening to learn more about The Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study, conducted by Coffman Associates. 

ILM hosted an open-house workshop to inform residents and gain feedback as part of the study’s 18-to-24-month process. It will measure all aviation flying in and out of ILM. According to the airport, the majority of complaints they receive concern military aircraft.

“The airport is open to all aircraft operators, we don’t have the ability to say: ‘You can’t operate here,'” Jeff Bourk, ILM director, said. “But what we can do is this noise study to understand what the noise exposure is, and then if there are noise exposures over certain level[s], then we can do certain things.”

The study is intended to objectively review data to see if noise impacts exist by FAA standards. It could also allow for funding for mitigation strategies if impacts are identified. 

Many residents have complained about excessive noise from military aircraft flying into the airport since 2021. The military routinely stops at ILM to refuel from nearby training areas. They must follow FAA regulations, yet the FAA does not have authority over military operations. 

In 2022, a permanent noise abatement memorandum of understanding agreement was reached between the FAA and the military.

The study includes operational forecasts for military planes, though it acknowledges that, due to national security unpredictability, their missions are difficult to estimate. There were 3,078 local military aircraft operations in 2023 and the study predicts an uptick to 3,129 by the year 2028.

“We know there’s some upset people here tonight,” Bourk said. “But we volunteered to enter into this process; we are wanting to have as much positive impact as we can on any noise exposure that is occurring around it.”

Gasquet came to the workshop to request more compatible flight patterns for military planes with downtown residential interests.

Bourk said, while flight patterns or operations cannot be changed based on the results of the study, the impacts of the noise could be aided by voluntary procedures. This would include noise abatement departure procedures, to keep aircraft over unpopulated areas for longer periods of time.

The compatibility threshold for residential areas, or the noise level that must be reached to be considered noise-sensitive, is 65 decibels. However, thresholds vary based on land-use types. If the study identifies noise-sensitive areas exist, further analysis will be undertaken to determine the best way to reduce exposure.

So far, the study has determined the types of land and areas where it will measure sound. It will include nearly 29,000 acres of land surrounding the airport, with the greatest portion, 27%, being low-density residential land.

The study is using a day-night average sound level (DNL) metric to measure noise levels. The metric represents the cumulative, or average, exposure to sound over a 24-hour period. The FAA describes the metric as a “simple and uniform way” to determine both the amount of noise and total number of aircraft operations throughout the day. 

Some residents questioned whether the DNL metric is effective for determining spikes in noise levels, such as military aircraft landings, as it measures a total average of sound throughout the day. According to the FAA, to account for different durations of sound, varying metrics are used to compare brief noise events with events over a longer period of time.

ILM spokesperson Erin McNally said that the first stages of the study is analyzing what sites may be affected and forecasting the growth of the airport.

“They can address our legitimate concerns and still have a robust plan for development of the airport,” Gasquet said. 

ILM is the fourth-fastest growing airport in the nation. It had a 21% increase in passengers last year, with 1.3 million more travelers funneling through the airport. 

Designated areas to be studied include 24% single-family residential properties, 4% multi-family residential, 6% airport property, 3% non-residential noise-sensitive land, and 13% vacant land.  

“Whether parks, residential, industrial,” she said, “the consultants are looking at information regarding the current plans and codes with the county and the city. It’s really just pulling together a lot of data.”

The county codes were used to provide background information in mapping the study area surrounding the airport, and noise exposure information may be used to plan future projects. Discussion of land-use planning based on study results will be included in future portions of the study.

A couple of people at the meeting asked why the military aircraft could not stop at other bases, such as Camp Lejeune and the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point. Bourk pointed out a common misconception is that military planes could adjust their routes. Stopping at ILM, he said, was the most time-efficient way to refuel. As well, pilots must be trained and capable of operating at civilian airports as well.

The military will partly contribute to the study by providing operating information and types of military aircraft used at the airport, as well as input on study materials by participating on the planning advisory committee.

The PAC was put together to enable involvement of groups affected by the study. It will have 20 to 30 on the board, including representatives from the Historic Downtown Wilmington Foundation, the State Historic Preservation Organization, airport tenants and aviation representatives, and federal, state and local agencies. The groups were invited based on guidance in the Part 150 study regulations and by Coffman & Associates.

The cost of the study is funded by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for establishing where aircraft can be flown. The grant will cover roughly 90% of the study expenses — $1.1. million — and Wilmington International Airport is contributing just more than $100,000.

The airport plans to keep the public up to date as more information becomes available. The next open-house meeting will be in September. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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