More Noise on Noise

There's nothing like listening to a commercial airliner pass overhead on a quiet night. Imagine it as a 30-second clap of thunder punctuated by a metallic scream that makes the insides of your teeth vibrate. For the thousands of people living around the remaindered Marine Corps Air Station in South County, the prospect of having to get used to such disturbances is the scariest part of the county's proposed El Toro International Airport—aside from the possibility that the noise is the prelude to the plane falling on you.

Attempting to calm such fears, airport supporters have always maintained that any airport at El Toro would feature the same—not merely similar—noise restrictions as those at John Wayne Airport (JWA). That airport, which usually hurls aircraft directly over the Back Bay in Newport Beach, prohibits all commercial aircraft from operating between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Considering that JWA's curfew is a special exemption no longer granted by the Federal Aviation Administration (which says such curfews are bad for business), it's unlikely the county will mandate such a curfew for El Toro. Indeed, the county's own El Toro Environmental Impact Report (EIR) admits as much.

"County staff do not believe that a total curfew should be incorporated as mitigation for the proposed project," reads the EIR section on noise. Two pages later, it explains why: a noise curfew similar to JWA's will cut El Toro's proposed domestic passenger operations by 10 percent, international passenger operations by 22 percent, and all cargo operations by a stunning 60 percent.

Undaunted, county consultants concocted a new scheme—a "noise restriction" ban on any aircraft louder than 86 decibels on the single-event noise scale at night. In fact, as consultant Ron Ahlfeldt admitted under questioning during the county's Dec. 23, 1999, press conference, the "restriction" is actually an agreement the county would sign with each airline, thereby outmaneuvering the FAA's curfew ban.

If negotiating the schedules of more than a dozen domestic and international airlines sounds unimaginably complicated, you're in good company: the county's own EIR agrees. "Feasibility of implementing this measure is questionable because of the interests authority of the FAA and the interests of the regulated parties, the commercial air carriers."

So there you have it: the FAA no longer offers special exemptions, and the county's own planners say contracts with the airlines are not likely to include noise limits.

Those two salient facts haven't stopped the pro-airport community—or Times OC reporter Jean O. Pasco—from repeating the myth that El Toro International Airport will open with bans in place. As long ago as 1996 and as recently as Jan. 30, the Times dutifully reported airport backers' propaganda that El Toro will open with noise bans in place.

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