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Folsom's Mather agreement has teeth

County commits to solutions for decrease in air-cargo noise
By: Roger Phelps The Telegraph
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A decrease in burdensome nighttime noise for area residents is likely to follow recent settlement of Folsom's court case versus the Sacramento County Airport System, but evidently it will take work to please everybody. Faced with listening to cargo flights bound for Mather Airport, residents for years in Folsom, El Dorado Hills, Rescue and Gold Hill have protested they can't sleep through the night. A study in July 2003 found plausibility in a string of reports that people couldn't hear each other talking when a plane came over. However, the study found noise levels were within allowable decibel limits for aircraft noise under local, state and federal laws. Folsom officials and residents said the county's response to complaints amounted to little more than turning a deaf ear. The lawsuit was filed in November and settled April 22. "We said, in effect, to the county, 'We're going to call your bluff -- you've been thinking we'll just get tired of complaining and go away,'" said City Councilwoman Kerri Howell. "This was about getting their attention, and it seems to have accomplished the mission." Some local anti-aircraft-noise activists were cautiously optimistic. "The commitment by the county to finding solutions is long overdue," said Folsom resident Glen Otey. "A similar commitment is needed from the cargo air carriers and the Federal Aviation Administration, who must approve and implement those solutions, should any be found." However, El Dorado County Supervisor Ron Briggs said he worries that for other areas of his county, change might be for the worse. Briggs said he feared shifted air routes could pass over areas, possibly including Cameron Park, where aircraft noise currently is absent. "El Dorado County needs its own mitigation path," Briggs said. "Folsom just wants to shove planes south, which will pass over El Dorado County." Sacramento County must hire a consultant to craft alternate flight paths and to propose "any (other) opportunities for short- and long-term solutions to the Folsom noise overflight issue," the agreement states. Briggs acknowledged that Gold Hill, Rescue and El Dorado Hills residents probably will benefit from the agreement. He has been vocal in recent months in suggesting El Dorado County join Folsom's suit to get a voice at the negotiating table. The county did not act to join the city's suit. Folsom City Councilman Andy Morin said the the settlement intends to solve the Mather noise problem as far as possible for the greatest number of people -- regardless of ZIP code. "This isn't Folsom, this is El Dorado Hills and Folsom," Morin said. "Mather affects probably more people in El Dorado Hills than it does in Folsom. The agreement is to look at alternatives. This is not going to be parochial. It will be a solution that works for everyone -- Cameron Park, definitely. All of El Dorado County." Mayor Eric King outlined a flight-path option that, if adopted, could benefit a significant number of people. Cargo flights both from the east coast and from southern California approach Mather from the northeast after first entering the local region from the south, King said. Most, but not all, make the "left turn" over El Dorado County and come in over Gold Hill, Rescue and El Dorado Hills, and then over Folsom, King said. Some planes already bypass most of that flight line, King said. "Some planes already use an approach that comes into the approved approach path at the southern part of Folsom, and make the left turn toward Mather there," King said. "It leaves out El Dorado Hills and to the north." Under the settlement, Sacramento County has 30 days from time of agreement to publish a scope-of-work document for the hiring of a consultant to review flight-path options. Folsom agrees to pay half the consultant fee, up to a maximum of $50,000. The county agrees to hold at least two meetings at which Folsom officials can address air-cargo company officials directly on the noise issue. The agreement bars Sacramento County from immediately permitting a planned expansion of a cargo-flight company's facility at Mather Airport. The expansion cannot be permitted until the county undertakes to satisfy Folsom both that the project is necessary for safety and that airport officials have made good-faith effort at mapping new flight paths that are less burdensome on Folsom residents. The agreement has evident teeth, but precisely how its terms will be installed is still, well, up in the air. "County staff shall inform Mather air cargo carriers that reduction or elimination of noise impacts caused by Mather overflights is a high priority for all parties," the settlement agreement states. "This tells me the city has been working on this thing in the background," said Folsom resident Chuck Coalson. "(But) for myself and others, noise removal is needed. I have heard 'reduction' preached the last 10 years. The airport system thinks one decibel is significant." The Telegraph’s Roger Phelps can be reached at rogerp@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at folsomtelegraph.com