Metroplex flight-path impact portrayed as minor by feds

FAA report on Metroplex plan is available for public comment


A federal plan to reroute airplane traffic that has riled up mayors in the south metro Denver area is expected to have “no significant impacts” on noise, air quality, wildlife or historic and cultural resources, according to the federal government's own analysis.

“After we have had the chance to further review the recently released report, and after we have had the opportunity to hear from the FAA over the next week, area mayors will continue to work together to reach and advocate for the best outcome for our citizens,” said Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko, one of the local officials closely watching developments on the plan.

The Federal Aviation Administration's NextGen project — an effort to increase safety and efficiency of air transportation across the country — began in 2007 and is expected to be largely in place by 2025. The FAA tags it as “one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in U.S. history.”

In the Denver area, the potential overhaul lies in the NextGen Denver Metroplex project, which aims to optimize arrival and departure at local airports, including Denver International Airport, Centennial Airport and some others. The rub in the south suburbs is a possible moving of flight paths that now generally stay east of Interstate 25 and south of DIA to a new corridor that could run above the areas of Littleton, Englewood and Cherry Hills Village, for example.

But it's unclear what amount of added air traffic would be moved over certain areas. Most Centennial Airport flights wouldn't use the proposed routes if the plan is approved, according to the FAA.

It's also unclear what the effect on air traffic would be for areas south of Centennial Airport, in northern Douglas County, where residents currently report noise complaints in some of the most concentrated amounts.

'No significant impacts'

Local officials have previously questioned the possible effect on quality of life in the metro area, citing concerns with wildlife, sleep disturbance and the ability to enjoy a casual trip to parks.

A draft of a report by the FAA dated April 22 — called an environmental assessment — analyzed the plan's potential impact on aspects of the metro area including noise, air quality, climate, historical and cultural areas, aircraft fuel, and minority and low-income communities.

“In summary, no significant impacts to any environmental resource category have been identified,” says the report, which is about 150 pages long and was released with appendices totaling hundreds more pages.

The report does note that about 100 people in rural parts of Jefferson, Adams and Elbert counties would likely experience a noise increase of 5 decibels in areas where the average noise would usually vary between 45 and 60 decibels. Conversation in restaurants generally hovers around 60 decibels, according to a Purdue University chart. Upper-70s levels are annoyingly loud to some people, the chart said.

But that's the extent of the notable noise changes, the report said — and only increases of 1.5 decibels or more in areas exposed to 65 decibels and up are considered to “exceed threshold of significance,” according to the report.

Chance to give input

The FAA's final environmental assessment will give the last word on whether further studying needs to be done on the plan's potential impact. But before that, the agency will take comments during a roughly six-week public comment period, lasting until June 6.

The public can comment online, by physical mail or at several “workshop” meetings, at which FAA representatives will be available to answer questions and take written input on comment cards that will be provided.

Piko has alerted the offices of U.S. Rep. Jason Crow and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner about concerns regarding the plan, she said.

“I stressed to each of them the concerns we have about the FAA and how they are not taking into account lessons learned from other Metroplex experiences,” Piko said. “Past experience shows us that they have a tendency to have 'no finding of significance' in their studies” before taking proper account of local concerns.

Around early 2019, metro area mayors had been consistently discussing the issue. Despite the lack of clear details on what changes could happen, the mayors of Sheridan, Englewood, Littleton, Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills Village and Centennial, who meet informally each month for lunch, have talked about it during their gatherings, Englewood Mayor Linda Olson has said.

Centennial Airport has expressed concerns to the FAA about the plan and stressed the importance of the FAA's workshop meetings.

“Everyone who has questions, concerns, please attend one of those meetings,” said Deborah Grigsby Smith, the airport's spokeswoman. “Once that window closes, it's not going to open again.”

Metroplex, Centennial Colorado, FAA flight path, Nextgen, Centennial Airport, Ellis Arnold


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