Some Boiseans believe the deciders have made up their minds to bring louder military jets to Boise.
Many of these people live near the airport, so they’d be most affected by the noise. They suspect their concerns don’t matter to the city government, Idaho Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force. When the authorities reach out and ask for their opinions, they think it’s just for show.
“I don’t like that — the feeling that we’re being manipulated,” said Monty Mericle, who lives on Meriwether Drive just north of the Boise Airport’s runways.
This might explain why there’s such a big gap between what the city of Boise says and what people believe about the future of airport noise.
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Basic information, such as the purpose of an airport noise study, is in dispute.
The city of Boise, through its airport officials, says this year’s study is routine. The city commissions a new noise study every 10 years or so, airport spokesman Sean Briggs said. The Federal Aviation Administration requires current noise studies as a prerequisite to applying for money to reduce local airports’ noise impacts on surrounding neighborhoods.
The last one was done in 2004, Briggs said. Before that, it had been done in 1986 and 1996.
Briggs said the timing of this year’s study has nothing to do with the Air Force’s plan to decommission its entire fleet of A-10 aircraft, including the Idaho Air National Guard’s 21 A-10s, which take off and land on the same two runways that Boise Airport’s commercial flights use. It also has nothing to do with talk of replacing Idaho’s A-10s with faster, louder jets such as F-15s or F-35s, Briggs said.
But many people who live near the airport simply don’t believe that. For evidence, they point to maps that depict how noise coming from the airport would increase if F-15s or F-35s replaced A-10s. A draft version of the study also recommends acquisition of homes and undeveloped land near the airport.
“It does seem like it’s a little more serious deal than, ‘This is just a casual little sign-off report we just send in every 10 years’ or something,” said John Gannon, a state representative for legislative district 17, which includes the Hillcrest Neighborhood just across Interstate 84 from the airport.
Afterburners are another point of contention.
Fast fighter jets such as the F-15 and F-35 are equipped with afterburners, which are very loud and give the planes additional thrust. The A-10, whose max speed is less than one third that of the F-15, does not have them.
Would F-15s or F-35s use their afterburners here?
With F-15s, the answer is yes. The noise study, conducted by Kansas City-based consultant HNTB Corporation, includes a noise exposure map that assumes F-15s would take the A-10s’ place and use afterburners at takeoff.
The result is a major noise increase. The F-15s would increase from 89 to 419 the number of Boise homes exposed to an average of 65 decibels, the level the Federal Aviation Administration considers incompatible with residential areas and schools.
$464,287 Cost of a noise study that consultant HNTB Corporation is conducting for the Boise Airport. The FAA is paying 93.75 percent of the cost, with the city of Boise paying the rest.
What about the F-35s? That’s a little more complicated.
First, the noise study doesn’t officially consider the potential impact of replacing Boise’s A-10s with F-35s because the study can’t anticipate developments more than five years in the future, Briggs said. But HNTB did work up a noise exposure map based on the F-35, and the city presented it at an open house.
The map showed a smaller 65-decibel “noise contour” — jargon for a line drawn around a noise source that represents the threshold for a specific noise level — for the F-35 than the F-15. That raised some eyebrows because the F-35 is louder than the F-15 when afterburners are in use.
The explanation is that HNTB anticipated the F-35 would use afterburners on only 10 percent of their Boise flights, Briggs said. Pilots typically don’t engage afterburners while training, Briggs said.
Again, Mericle doesn’t believe that.
“It does come down to a he-said, she-said type of thing,” he said. “I’m saying the reality is that all military jets that have afterburners use them 90 to 95 percent of the time. And they can come back and say, ‘Well, we promise we’ll only use them 10 percent of the time.’ I think the reality is going to be quite different.”
The official F-35 afterburner policy is unclear. Major Christopher Borders, an Idaho National Guard spokesman, said local flight crews don’t know much about the F-35 because their expertise is with the A-10. Efforts to contact a U.S. Air Force representative were unsuccessful.
Of all the complaints about the noise study and the future of Boise’s military planes, the airport’s public involvement efforts have drawn the most broad criticism.
It’s another area of disagreement between the city, which insists it’s been forthcoming, and critics, who suspect the city of trying to keep the study quiet.
“There seems to be a kind of secretiveness. We’ve pretty much been excluded from this process,” Mericle said. “It’s almost like there’s been a fixation on trying to keep as much information away from us as long as possible.”
FAA guidelines refer to public involvement as “a continually evolving art” without giving specific instructions for steps airports and their consultants should take to do it well.
The agency guidelines say, “The right of citizens to be actively involved in molding the plans which will affect their future is fundamental. To be effective, this involvement must begin early enough in the planning program to assert a real influence over its direction and decisions.”
Mericle suggested the city send letters to all of the households inside the 65-decibel noise contour.
Gannon wants the city to restart the public involvement process for the noise study. That means taking more steps to tell Boiseans the study is happening and doing a better job of notifying them, especially people who live near the airport, about meetings and other opportunities to get information and give opinions.
The airport has no plans to do that, Briggs said. The city’s outreach program, which included open houses, social media announcements and emails, was in line with what airports of similar size do, he said. The airport also extended by several weeks the deadline for submitting comments on the study’s draft version.
“I feel like we did our due diligence,” Briggs said.
WHAT ABOUT THE THIRD RUNWAY?
Gannon also wants the city to analyze the potential of expanding an existing runway south of Gowen Road and east of Pleasant Valley Road as part of its noise study.
Today, the Idaho Air National Guard’s planes take off and land on the same two Boise Airport runways that commercial flights use. The idea would be to use the runway south of Gowen Road for military flights.
This is not the place to put a base for warplanes. They’re fine in Mountain Home because they’re going to disrupt jackrabbits and other animals, but they’re fine there. But here, you’re just going to be continuing to turn this into an urban area.
Monty Mericle, who lives near the Boise Airport
Like the F-35 proposal, the study can’t consider the third runway option because there’s no way it could be done in five years, Airport Director Rebecca Hupp said. But improving it is a long-term possibility, she said.
The third runway is analyzed in the Boise Airport’s master plan, which considers a longer-term future than the noise study, Hupp said. Bringing it up to specifications for commercial flights would cost about $100 million, she said.
That would cover the cost of lengthening it to 10,000 feet. It also would have to be widened and would need new lights, a taxiway for planes to drive onto and off of the runway and another taxiway connecting it across Gowen Road to the Boise Airport’s airfield.
A few of those items, such as the new taxiway, might not be necessary if the south runway were only for military use, Hupp said. The FAA and U.S. Department of Defense could both help pay for the project, she said.
Boise eyeing homes near the airport?
A draft version of a Boise Airport noise study includes recommendations to buy 105 houses and an unspecified amount of undeveloped land near the airport.
The city of Boise, which owns the airport, would not condemn the properties in question, airport spokesman Sean Briggs said. Instead, property owners would have to agree to sell if the city wanted to make the purchases, he said.
The cost for each property would be based on an appraisal, Briggs said. The Federal Aviation Administration would cover 93.75 percent of the cost, with the city paying the remaining 6.25 percent, Briggs said.
See for yourself
For more information on the Boise Airport noise study, including a draft version of the study and related materials, including noise contour maps, visit our online version of this story at IdahoStatesman.com.