South Burlington city officials are considering conducting their own sound mapping of the Burlington International Airport in anticipation of F-35 fighter jets flying at the National Guard facility there.
The FAA conducts sound mapping at airports to determine the contours of noise generated and then sets mitigation zones. In a voluntary program, homeowners can be bought out or have their homes sound-insulated if inner noise levels are at or above 45 decibels due to aircraft.
The Burlington International Airport shares its runways with the Vermont Air National Guard. The most recent sound mapping of the airport was completed in 2015.
South Burlington City Council Chair Helen Riehle says updated maps are needed because the new F-35 fighter jets will be stationed at the airport before the current maps expire in 2020. She says the F-35’s were not taken into account in the maps and expects the new planes will create a significant change in noise contour lines. “Our concern is that, and we know this can’t be an official new mapping, but we can plug the F-35 sound formula into the mapping formula to get at least a projection, a possible projection, of the change in those lines when they arrive. And some maps suggest, and the Air Force suggested, that the sound contours change and they become much longer and narrower.”
About 900 people are living within the current sound mitigation zone designated by the airport. New sound contours could affect homeowners deciding whether they want to participate in the voluntary buyout plan. At an Airport Sound Mitigation Committee meeting this week, South Burlington’s city manager was told noise contour maps can cost up to $400,000. But Riehle says the city has retained an aviation noise expert who is certain they could run a more cost-effective noise analysis. “It won’t be the official one. But I mean just imagine if you were a homeowner and you really didn’t want to sell your house and you found out well you know in three years I’m going to be outside of the line. So can I hang on and hold on to the house? Or if you find out that you know the line will get wider and even more houses will be impacted. You know maybe you’ll want to sell and get out of there.”
Riehle adds: “The actual noise maps that they’re using now are not actual sound levels. It’s a formula. And our sense is that the more information a homeowner has the better decision they can make for themselves.”
The South Burlington City Council expects to have a resolution on its November 19th agenda that would support moving forward with its own noise mapping of the Burlington airport.