CRANFORD, NJ – The on-again, off-again battle that has waged for decades to reduce air traffic noise in the skies above the township appears to be intensifying again.
The Township Committee adopted a resolution at its Nov. 5 meeting “expressing opposition” to the “increase of low-flying aircraft in the community since May 2018.”
A copy of the resolution will be sent to U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, and U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker. Also, a copy will be sent to the Flight Standards District Offices, which is the local field office of the Federal Aviation Administration servicing Union County, as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Noise Office.
Mayor Tom Hannen said the resolution was drafted at the urging of Barbara Krause, a Cranford resident and a member of Union County’s Air Traffic and Noise Advisory Board.
“It was a reaction to Barbara bringing to our attention the concerns of both the representatives from Cranford and the committee so that we would give them some back up on their efforts to limit the amount of noise,” Hannen said in a Nov. 15 phone interview.
According to the ordinance, “the increased flight traffic has created excessive noise in the community throughout various times of the day and night” and the noise “has disrupted the quality of life for Cranford residents as it has become increasingly difficult for residents to enjoy normal behaviors such as outdoor activities, watching television and listening to music.”
Krause and Shirley Gazsi, a member of the board and a Cranford resident, noted at the board’s Sept. 17 meeting that they had 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 at the meeting. “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 that 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’s battle to reduce air traffic noise made national headlines in the 1980s and ‘90s. The Union County Air Traffic Noise Advisory Board, which has served as a watchdog body since being formed in 1987, took up that fight. Jerome Feder, acting chairman of the board, said at the meeting that air traffic noise became such a hot-button issue 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 Lance, who represents New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District. The 7th District includes Berkeley Heights, Clark, Cranford, Garwood, Kenilworth, Mountainside, New Providence, Springfield, Summit, Westfield 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.
The board spent most of its Sept. 17 meeting analyzing 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,” Feder 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 hoped 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.’’’
Although the resolution addresses quality of life issues such as the nuisance of loud noise, it goes on to hint at studies that have found wide-ranging effects from air traffic noise.
According to the resolution, the Township Committee “is aware of and very concerned about the deleterious health effects such noise has on its residents, including disruption to children’s learning, hearing problems, elevated blood pressure and increased stress levels.”