Activists Win Round In Fight To Shrink Bwi 'Noise Zone'

September 26, 1991|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

A BWI watchdog group has prevailed in its 2 1/2-year fight to have astate transportation review board hear an appeal for a smaller airport "noise zone."

The final victory came Tuesday, when the State Attorney General's office dropped its challenge to a ruling issued lastyear by Circuit Court Judge Warren Duckett. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals was to hear the case next week.

"It's a win -- we're happy," said G. Macy Nelson, the attorney representing the Airport Coordinating Team. "This is a major victory for citizens. We're right and they're wrong, and they know it."

Linda Greene, spokeswoman for the Maryland Aviation Administration, whichowns and operates Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said the state will not comment on its decision.

She said it would be "inappropriate to comment on the ACT case" because the airport currently is involved in an unrelated lawsuit against area residents angry over noisy jets.

Now that the state has dropped its appeal, Duckett's ruling goes into full effect, which means the transportation reviewboard will have to hear ACT's case. A date for that review has not been set.

The noise zone designates areas with an average daily noise level of at least 65 decibels, about the level of a downtown commercial street. Residential development is prohibited within the zone without a special permit, and people living within its boundaries are eligible for state programs to buy their homes or help locate a buyer.

ACT insists the Aviation Administration extended the noise zone in 1988 only to pave the way for airport expansion. The group says the zone approved by the state three years ago was drastically different from what was unveiled at a public hearing just a few months earlier.

The group contends a second public hearing should have been organized before the changes, which resulted in a larger zone than anticipated, were implemented.

The state argued that the noise zone wasan "internal management tool" not subject to appeal by the review board.

Duckett disagreed. "The noise zone certification goes far beyond any such internal use," he said in his September 1990 ruling. "Rather, the plan directly affects the rights of the public."

Even though the state is working on a new updated noise zone, the outcome ofthe current case could help citizens if they appeal a new plan. "That's where the big victory comes in," said Dennis Stevens, president of ACT.

Stevens said he believes the state's decision to drop the case stems from regulations issued Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Those directives require airlines to phase out noisy planes by 2000 as well as restrict the ability of local airports to impose noise regulations.

"It just seems to me there has to be a relationship," Stevens said.

"Maybe I'm missing something, but . . . it happened the day the final rules were issued."

Stevens said hisgroup wants the transportation review board to order BWI to impose amandatory schedule to phase out noisy planes. That may be impossible, however, because of the new federal regulations.

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