Sounds Unreasonable

People living close to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station are wrong to think aircraft at the proposed international airport will keep them awake all night with the blaring roar from screaming jet turbines. At least, that's what county officials said in a Dec. 8 press conference as they released a new noise report. And the Los Angeles Times was right there, reporting to its 200,000-plus Orange County readers that the new airport would be as loud as everyday conversation.

"Our preliminary analysis shows that there will be no existing homes and no public schools in the commercial 65 CNEL noise footprint at El Toro in 2020," said El Toro program manager Courtney Wiercioch in a county press release. "The bottom line is that the vast majority of Orange County's 2.6 million residents, north and south, will experience little or no noise from a commercial airport."

Alongside its Jean O. Pasco-penned story, the Times ran an unbelievably simplistic graph--prepared by county spin-doctors who must feel residents are as sophisticated as inbred monkeys--comparing the number of homes, people and schools affected by five airports. Of course, El Toro was the only airport showing zeros in each category.

The county swears by the CNEL metric, which averages the proposed airport's noise over a 24-hour period. According to state law, the county has to mitigate the impacts for anyone living in an area receiving at least 65 decibels of noise on the CNEL scale. The county's determination that no one lives in this zone means they won't have to pay for anyone's sound insulation.

By relying on the CNEL scale, the county makes the airport seem a lot quieter than it actually will be. Anyone reading the Times would get the idea that most residents living near El Toro would hear between 50 and 64 decibels from the airport--roughly the equivalent of normal conversation.

This is nonsense. The 65-decibel CNEL figure is an average number--if you listened to the airport for 24 hours straight, the sound would average out to 65 decibels. But airports--actually, airplanes--produce noise in brief bursts. In a rare briefing Wiercioch gave to the pro-airport Orange County Regional Airport Authority in June, the single-event noise level produced by a Boeing 757 was 85 decibels. That's the sound residents all over South County will hear in the few moments it takes for the plane to pass in and out of earshot.

To people walking through busy traffic intersections, that 85-decibel event won't seem like much. But to people in quiet 3 a.m. bedrooms, the event will be as invasive as someone switching on a blender.

It's understandable why the county isn't playing up single-event noise data--to do so would confirm residents' worst fears about what the airport would do to the neighborhoods. So why did the Times (and The Orange County Register and Daily Pilot) ignore it as well?


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