Airport noise to be measured; pilots discuss runway plan

MIDDLEBURY — A consultant has placed five noise monitors at the Middlebury State Airport to give Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) aviation officials an idea of what neighbors are currently hearing near the site and how that sound level might change following a proposed 700-foot extension of the airport runway.
Meanwhile, some of pilots who regularly use the Middlebury airport are starting to weigh in on the proposed $3.5 million project, saying that a runway extension will be key in assuring safer landings and takeoffs.
Around 50 airport neighbors turned out at the Middlebury municipal gym on Oct. 6 for the latest in a series of VTrans meetings designed to explain, and garner public feedback on, a plan to extend the 2,500-foot runway by 700 feet (to the north) for a total of 3,200 feet, and to widen it from the current 50 feet to 60 feet.
Area neighbors have voiced significant concerns about the project, which some believe might create more noise, create more air traffic and bring larger airplanes to the Middlebury airport.
VTrans officials have called the plan, and the related move to remove some trees at the southern takeoff/approach of the runway, an effort to increase safety measures for pilots and those who live near the facility.
Eddie Duncan, a noise control engineer with Resource Systems Group Inc., told participants at the Oct. 6 meeting that his company had placed five monitoring devices on airport grounds. Two of them are long-term monitors that have been in place since Aug. 10, and three are shorter-term monitors that will gather data for around four weeks, according to Duncan. One of the long-term monitors is functioning at the southern end of the airport, while the other is functioning in the north-northeast section of the grounds, Duncan said.
He shared six days worth of continuous monitoring results, showing average noise levels of 52 decibels recorded at the southern monitoring device, and 45 decibels picked up at the north-northeast device. Duncan acknowledged some helicopter operations at the southern monitoring point, which he said might have spiked the readings during the six-day measuring period.
A 52-decibel noise has a sound similar in intensity to an electric fan, hair dryer or a running refrigerator, background music or large electrical transformer at 100 feet, according to the website and other online sources.
But neighbors have argued that the current airport noise is more disruptive than that, with some contending that aircraft sounds have drowned out backyard conversations and caused dishes to rattle in their homes.
“It doesn’t feel right to see these numbers,” said airport neighbor Karen Glauber. “There are times where (the noise level) is far more than that.”
Guy Rouelle, aviation program director for VTrans, said the final noise data will reflect current aircraft and helicopter noise, as well conditions without such noise.
Neighbors asked Rouelle if trees marked at the southern approach/landing could merely by topped — as opposed to completely removed. They also asked if there has been a pattern of increased air traffic at airports at which runway expansion projects have been completed.
Rouelle said that while whole sections of trees will not be clear-cut, those that need to go will be completely taken out to ensure they don’t have to be repeatedly trimmed.
Rouelle said he did not have data to show the air traffic impact of runway expansion projects at airports of similar size to Middlebury’s.
Some area pilots are urging VTrans to push forward with a project that they say would make the Middlebury airport much easier to navigate.
One of those pilots is Jim MacKay, who recently relocated to the Middlebury area from North Carolina. MacKay acknowledged that there is little history of accidents at the Middlebury airport, but said conditions are such that pilots have to really be on their game to ensure smooth takeoffs and landings.
“That extra runway gives me margin,” MacKay said.
“We don’t necessarily plan to have a good day, every day,” he added. “We try to plan for our worst days.”
He likened the runway extension to the safety features that people look for when they purchase cars. Drivers don’t plan to have accidents but make sure their vehicles include airbags and anti-lock brakes, MacKay said.
He also weighed in on the controversy surrounding whether to offer jet fuel at the Middlebury airport. MacKay said some pilots are flying in with jet fuel reserves knowing they can’t get it locally. The need for jet fuel reserves makes the airplane heavier and thus makes it trickier to land on the limited Middlebury runway, according to MacKay.
Middlebury resident Doug Gurnee has been piloting small aircraft for 26 years and flies into the local airport an average of four times a month. He took issue with neighborhood opposition to a project that he said is all about safety.
“These people bought or built houses around the airport knowing full well it was there, and now they don’t want any changes,” he said. 
He called the runway extension a “safety net” that can be used if pilots need it.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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