Passenger jets taking off from BWI Airport roar over Carol Nowakowski's rural home every couple of minutes.
One day last January, Mrs. Nowakowski said, she counted more than 200 flights over her Hanover home.
"Something starts weighing on you and, after a while, you realize that it's the incessant noise," Mrs. Nowakowski told a state transportation review board yesterday. "You leave the house for a while to get away from it, but you know you have to come back again. You almost hate to come back to your own house."
Mrs. Nowakowski and other neighbors of Baltimore-Washington International Airport began an appeal yesterday of the 1988 expansion of the facility's "noise zone."
Constance Burton, a lawyer for the Airport Coordinating Team (ACT), a non-profit BWI watchdog group, said the state approved an enlarged zone -- the area around the airport affected by jet noise -- and altered the strategies used to reduce it without a public hearing.
The Maryland Aviation Administration held a public hearing on a proposed noise-control plan at Old Mill High School on Aug. 22, 1988. But the agency made seven substantive changes -- including drawing a larger noise zone, altering flight paths and eliminating a proposed earthen noise barrier -- before approving the plan, Ms. Burton said.
The residents, whose appeal has been stalled in the courts for three years, want the plan overturned and new plan drafted with more public input. In particular, they would like the state to
require airlines to modernize their fleets with quieter aircraft.
Louisa Goldstein, an assistant attorney general representing the MAA, said the state received public input at the August 1988 meeting and based its changes on those comments. "We decided the best way to deal with the noise was a voluntary plan where the carriers would work with us," she said.
She said the noise-reduction programs were only expanded to allow more homes to take advantage of $62 million in state aid. The state is helping some homeowners sound-proof their homes, helping others who want to move find buyers, and purchasing still other homes.
Maryland law requires the state-owned airport to redefine its noise zone every five years. The noise zone designates areas with an average of at least 65 decibels, about the level of a downtown street.
New residential construction is prohibited within the zone without special permits. People living within its boundaries are eligible to receive state money to "sound-proof" their homes or find buyers. Residents like Mrs. Nowakowski, whose homes are in the noisiest part of the zone, can sell their homes to the state.
In the first day of testimony before a seven-member review board, Mrs. Nowakowski and her neighbors described how airport noise, and the changes in the state plan, have adversely affected their lives.
Mrs. Nowakowski said she does not want to sell the home where she raised her children, but believes she has no choice. The chronic noise has forced them to abandon their yard and swimming. All too often, the sound invades their home.
"You get like, 'Will it ever stop? Will they [the planes] ever go away?' " Mrs. Nowakowski said. "You wonder if you will ever get a chance to sleep there again. Well, you don't. You go away, camping or somewhere else."
The low rumble of heavy cargo planes is particularly disturbing, said Mrs. Nowakowski, who broke down in tears several times during her testimony. A 57-year-old native of London, Mrs. Nowakowski said they sound very much like the warplanes of Nazi Germany that terrorized that city during World War II.
"I find it frightening because of the things I experienced as a child," she said.
Charles Stafford, a chemist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a Hanover resident, said he was unaware he lived in a "noise zone" until the spring of 1989 when the number of flights over his home increased. Now, he said, he wants to move his family away.
"I can't tell you any more eloquently how it has affected my family other than to say we wanted to get the heck out of there," Mr. Stafford said.
The hearings continue this week and will resume during the first week of August at the Maryland Department of Transportation headquarters at BWI.