Atlanta airport runs roughshod over cities

Every day departing jets from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport fly so low over downtown College Park that it’s easy to believe you could reach out and actually touch the planes. The thrill of that experience, however, is not shared by many area residents. Since the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration decided to expand Runway 9L-27R and alter existing flight patterns, once quiet area neighborhoods now face the noise, smell of jet fuel and vibration from air traffic.

For those whose response is that the affected residents should have known better than to buy homes so close to a pre-existing airport, beware! All it takes is a minor change to a runway or flight path to bring the airport to your doorstep — which is exactly what has happened to residents of College Park, Forest Park and East Point.

The airport claims that the expansion and change are necessary to allow larger jets to utilize the expanded runway and to nominally reduce fuel usage with the change in the traffic patterns. That’s little comfort to the affected residents.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about the impact the expansion will have on the land, air and other natural resources. In a letter Oct. 8, 2008, the agency urged the “use of other innovative approaches to avoid or minimize emissions from mobile and stationary sources associated with airports and its traffic.”

Local cities and residents received no warning about the changes even though the airport’s general manager, Ben DeCosta, publicly committed in 2006 to notify local officials before such changes were to take place.

When reminded of that promise, the official response was that the airport was simply conducting “tests” on the proposed traffic changes. Tests or not, the impact of jets flying overhead can make living in an affected community unbearable. The noise from the jets drowns out the songbirds, human conversations and can wake you from a deep sleep. The vibrations are strong enough to rattle a house and crack plaster walls — a serious problem for older and historic homes.

DeCosta’s previous proposed solution to such problems was to suggest adding sound insulation to affected homes, but only to those that are within the 65-70 decibel noise level.

Unfortunately, that solution would do nothing to stop the vibrations or make outdoor activities less unpleasant. Residents pointed out that the changing jet traffic patterns would render their homes unmarketable and lower the value of their properties. Who, in their right mind, would purchase a home that is now in the direct path of these flights? Not even the airport or the FAA.

DeCosta has consistently been dismissive of residents’ legitimate concerns.

In a meeting with local city officials on Sept. 25, 2008, officials were told that the public meeting would be held on Sept. 30 with all written comments on the proposed changes due no later than Oct. 7.

There was no possible way for the cities to give timely notice to their residents in just five days, or to obtain experts’ assistance and respond within 12 days. The airport’s “official” notice for the public hearing in the AJC included an unidentified phone number for people to contact to obtain further information.

When asked to postpone the meeting to allow better notification for area residents, the request was denied. The communities received less time to comment on the significant harm being created by government agencies than you get to pay the monthly electric bill.

No one can deny the economic benefits the airport has brought to the Atlanta region. But that does not give the airport and the FAA the right to run roughshod over entire communities. Unfortunately, the airport has proved again and again that it will not compromise and people are mere speed bumps to its expansion.

Teresa Nelson is a former East Point City Council representative and longtime activist.