WESTFIELD, NJ — The skies over Union County will become noisier and more crowded, according to Union County’s Air Traffic and Noise Advisory Board.
The board spent most of the meeting Monday, Sept. 17, analyzing sections of a recent Port Authority study about air traffic noise in and around Newark International Airport. The study projects that 457,461 aircraft will be taking off or landing in Newark Airport in 2019, and by 2024, that number will to rise to 472,205.
“Operations are up,” Jerome Feder, acting chairman of the board, said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re having problems. The bad news, in addition to that, is that they’re projected to keep going up. It got to the point where I talk to people in Port Authority (who say), ‘Yeah but quieter planes are coming in.’
“But the net is the operations are rising faster than the planes are getting quieter. So, the net noise in the county — the county is going to be getting noisier.”
Some board members wondered whether the airport is even able to accommodate so many takeoffs and landings, and hope those numbers will be lower.
The board also focused on projections about the number of people exposed to a day-night average sound level, or DNL, of 70 decibels or higher. According to its website, the Federal Aviation Administration uses DNL as a metric to “reflect a person’s cumulative exposure to sound over a 24-hour period, expressed as the noise level for the average day of the year on the basis of annual aircraft operations.”
The Port Authority’s study shows that 25,912 people in and around Newark Airport will be exposed to 65 to 70 DNL in 2024. That same year, 1,883 will be exposed to 70 to 75 DNL.
“When you’re creeping around DNL 70 — I mean, people think DNL 65 is too noisy and not really compatible for residential use,” Feder said. “When you get up to DNL 70, it’s kind of like marginally useful for residential. This is going to be a big problem. Traffic is increasing. You just can’t walk away from a DNL 70 problem. You’re essentially making land worthless.”
In 2015, The Port Authority Board of Commissioners approved an agreement with Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. to conduct federal airport noise compatibility planning studies for Newark Airport at a projected cost of $6.6 million. The process seeks potential mitigation procedures to help address residents’ concerns about aircraft noise. The initial findings were rejected because the study had used low projections in several categories, including the number of flights in and out of Newark Airport. The FAA instructed the study to be conducted a second time with more accurate and recent data. Feder said the updated study is “more realistic” than the previous version.
“And when they make it more realistic,” Feder said, “They started coming up with things that they would just assume not like to face up to, which is 1,800 people at DNL 70. That screams out ‘You must fix it.’’
One proposed remedy listed in the study is soundproofing the houses of residents exposed to high DNL. That would entail the FAA creating a fund for homeowners to seal gaps, buy new windows and take other actions to mitigate the noise.
“Hopefully they’ll be some money for soundproofing,” Feder said. “The issues here are they will say we will soundproof, but the pot of money is likely to be woefully inadequate for the number of places that would need soundproofing.”
Much of the rest of the meeting centered around the rising levels of aircraft noise being reported in Cranford.
Cranford Township Committee member Mary O’Connor said at a summer committee meeting that she had received complaints from residents about air traffic noise. And board members Barbara Krause and Shirley Gazsi, who live in Cranford, said they also have experienced more noise from aircraft approaching or leaving Newark Airport.
“Last night I happened to be outside unloading my car and a plane came from the south going north,” Krause said. “I could hear it coming and all of sudden it was on top of me. I looked up. I could not believe how low it was. It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen in all the years that we’ve been fighting this.”
Gazsi said she has noticed sporadically over the past few years that the planes have been flying “low and loud and before you hear the end of one plane, you hear the next plane coming.”
She said that, since May, she fears, “that those original flight patterns from 1987 are returning.”
Cranford was at the center of the air traffic noise issue in the 1980s and 90s. The Union County Air Traffic Noise Advisory Board, which has served as a watchdog entity since being formed in 1987, took up that fight. Feder referenced a time when air traffic noise over Cranford and the rest of Union County was such a hot topic that meetings would be filled with hundreds of angry residents. At one point, the board joined with several other governing agencies in Pennsylvania and New York in litigation against the FAA about a controversial practice of directing planes over populated areas.
The board was able to enlist the support of U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, who represents New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District. The 7th District includes Clark, Cranford, Garwood, Kenilworth, Mountainside, Springfield, Summit, and parts of Union and Winfield. But Feder said that while Lance was able to facilitate a meeting with officials from the FAA, he doubts the county saw much change in regard to air traffic noise as a result of that meeting.
“With Lance, it was a struggle to get him to understand and accept the problem,” Feder said. “And yes, he did set up a meeting, but he just sat there with his arms folded. He didn’t do anything.”
Krause and Gazsi plan to take the issue to social media to drum up support in Cranford. They also plan to take O’Connor up on her offer to draft a letter expressing township’s concern about the projected rise in air traffic noise and have it signed by the members of the Cranford Township Committee. The letter will then be forwarded to officials at the FAA or the Port Authority. Krause said it’s important to continue to speak out about the issue, saying “What concerns me is with the Port Authority, it’s like squatter’s rights. They’re there and if no one complains, they’re just going to keep it going there and not spread it out. That’s why I think it’s almost as though we’re obligated to make our own noise about what’s happening because I think if you give them an inch, they will take a mile.”