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Questions about WOOSE and the OSU Airport

Recently, WOOSE president Dennis Hennen was interviewed via email by students in the OSU class CR&P 750N "Resolving Social Conflict.". Below are the questions and his responses.

How did your group form and how many members do you have? How active are your members?

In October 2003 over 40 concerned Worthington citizens met at a local coffee shop to discuss the airport expansion. It is here we formed the group "Worthingtonians Opposed to Ohio State airport Expansion."

WOOSE started receiving phone calls and emails from people living outside of Worthington interested in joining our group. We realized the impact was far wider than Worthington alone and thus changed our name to "We Oppose Ohio State airport Expansion."

We also found very early on that the problem extended beyond the proposed expansion. There were pre-existing noise problems that were unacceptable and had been ignored for years. We expanded our scope to cover these issues as well.

Currently several hundred people receive our mailing. Many more identify themselves with WOOSE assisting us with noise complaints, writing letters, contacting elected representatives and showing up at meetings. Over 1,600 people have signed the WOOSE petition opposing OSU Airport expansion. We could likely get many more signatures -- we just stopped asking for now. More than 9,000 noise complaints have been logged at our website since, and another 9,000+ complaints have been registered with the City of Worthington.

Do you have members with technical expert expierence or have you had to take time out to investigate and learn about noise analysis?

We have people with backgrounds, experience and expertise in aviation, acoustical engineering, science, history, politics, and law, just to name a few. We have studied FAA's regulations to understand the process and continue to study the factors, issues as well as national and international groups and regulations involved in airport use and expansion.

What is this conflict about?

There are two primary problems.

The first that precipitated the current situation is OSU's plans to expand the airport into "Central Ohio's Corporate Gateway". This includes the extension of the north runway and the addition of aircraft hangars.

The second is the current noise problems that have gone un-addressed for many, many years. The 1990 Part 150 study included a promise of additional noise study that was never done. A 050 degree turn was agreed to by OSU and CMH towers in the mid 1990's. That turn significantly changed the flight tracks of aircraft going east and was done without proper environmental study. The airport has gathered but never addressed noise complaints by area residents. Current noise is a big problem.

There are several tangential issues such as safety, pollution, land use, use of public funds, and historic buildings and areas. The area of the airport is the size of Bexley, and there are serious questions about the purpose and need and the airport and it's shift in mission.

What do you want out of this conflict? Why?

We wish to prevent the expansion of the airport in a way that will cause harm to our quality of life and property values. We also wish to reverse the damage caused by current operations by finding solutions to mitigate and abate the current noise. While the individuals using the airport have every right to, they must understand that they must do so in a manner compatible with the community and respect our rights to be free from noise nuisances and the like. We are in this to cause the University and the aviation community to act in a responsible manner, to adhere to their original mission, and to keep or improve our quality of life.

Who are the other interested people in the conflict, and what are their positions?

Corporate aviation community:

We have received through public records several letters written but the corporate users of the airport. They often site safety and convenience as the main factors as to why they wish to see the airport to expand. Public records from the FAA clearly demonstrate that the expansion is not a safety issue. While an extended runway will allow a few flights a year to land that otherwise might not be able to because of weather, it will also attract more aircraft and allow heavier aircraft to take off. Further, the argument for a longer runway does not recognize that OSU can never have a runway long enough to fully accommodate all the aircraft currently using it in all conditions, and ignores the fact that both Port Columbus and Rickenbacker are just minutes away by air. The added convenience for a few corporations is not worth the expense of thousands of people on the ground.

Private aviation community:

Columbus Flight Watch is a local group supporting OSU Airport have assisted them with public open houses. They have written letters and articles supporting the airport and the proposed expansion. Those flying smaller aircraft such as most private aviators would not benefit from a longer runway. However, they would benefit from new hangars that would allow their aircraft to be protected from the elements. Unfortunately, many of the proposed hangars for small aircraft have a dual-use for larger, corporate aircraft as well. Although the current administration has promised these hangars would not be used for larger aircraft, there is currently no way to ensure this won't happen in the future.

One thing that private pilots seem to overlook is that OSU has proposed closing one of the two cross-wind runways. While this runway is used only a small amount of the time, it does provide an increased safety margin for small aircraft pilots in some weather conditions, especially the unexperienced pilots while in training.

Governments:

Most notably Worthington and Riverlea have been very active in the process in order to protect their citizens. Other community governments are beginning to do the same.

Worthington City Council is neutral, but have hired an attorney and consultant to help them understand the issues. They have been very helpful in providing forums in which to address our concerns and have been very active in ensuring the protection of their citizens. Worthington passed two resolutions calling for the University to do a Part 150 Noise Study and Environmental Impact Study (EIS). They have also called on the OSU Board of Trustees to consider the recommendations in the WOOSE report and to perform single event noise analyzes.

Riverlea has come out against the airport. Riverlea passed two resolution calling for a Part 150 Noise Study and EIS and support the WOOSE Report Recommendations. These, too, were sent to OSU Board of Trustees.

Worthington Historical Society wrote the OSU Board of Trustees a letter supporting the WOOSE Report recommendations as well as the need for a Part 150 Study.

Old Worthington Association has hosted two community meeting inviting WOOSE as featured speaker. OSU declined to participate in both events.

NWCA 10 years ago supported the expansion. They held a public forum in August and have promised to revisit their position. We have also met with many State elected officials who have shown varying levels of interest and support, including letters to OSU asking them to perform an EIS and Part 150 study.

FAA:

The FAA has a stated position of neutrality. They state it is not their position that the airport should expand, but only make sure the proper studies and safety procedures are followed. However, as mentioned below the FAA has a vested interested in seeing aviation grow and they write the rules to keep airports dependent upon FAA financial resources. It's important to point out the FAA regulates aviation and airports in such a way that cuts out local and state regulating agencies.

OSU:

Even with the announced delay, OSU has made clear that they want the full expansion of the airport. One of the original reasons they stated was for the academic benefit of students, but they've since dropped this argument They've also put forward safety as an issue, though again that has been demonstrated as untenable and a position not supported by the FAA. The most recent position they have stated is for service to the community. However, the service an expanded airport would provide benefits a specific community of very few at the cost of very many. A closer look at the facts seems to indicate, however, that there may be an interest in monetary gain by the University as possibly by OSU Board of Trustee Members if expansion is approved.

Which parties do you trust or not trust in this conflict? Which of the parties has been on your side during this conflict? Have they done anything specificly to assist you to voice your concerns? Who is against you?

At this point we have had very little interaction with the corporate community and have no reason to trust or distrust them.

A very small minority of private aviators have demonstrated they are untrustworthy. There is evidence of slander performed by some of these individuals. Some have also suggested performing illegal activities against those who oppose airport expansion. They have every right to voice their opinions, but the manner they have chosen to do so is unacceptable. Unfortunately, these individuals are also the most active and most vocal. But again, these are a very small minority of the private aviation community and there are in fact aviators that support our cause.

WOOSE members have been harassed by phone, e-mail and US mail, sometimes anonymously, often by self-identified aviators.

Public records have shown that the FAA is being very careful to do things by the books to avoid legal troubles. However, the rules are written in such a way as to almost guarantee that airport expansion projects will be approved. When compared to rules for other organizations around the country and around the world, the FAA rules are ridiculously lax. Like most bureaucracies the FAA wants to grow, and they do this by expanding airports. While the people in the organization may be fine individuals who are doing their best at their job, the way the FAA is set up and run does not leave much room for trust.

We are still very distrustful of OSU, but are hopeful that the noise noise complaint system and advisory boards can help rebuild this trust.

Some examples for the distrust follow. OSU ignored complaints for many, many years. Many in the community feel they have been lied to by the airport director and others in the administration numerous times. Original airport planning documents did not even show the City of Worthington. OSU has promised adequate advance notice to communities about meetings, but have often failed to do so (though they are improving). They continue to ignore or refuse many of our legitimate and legal public records requests. But the biggest reason for distrust, and one that may never go away, is that the stated mission for the airport is not compatible with how it is being run and with the proposed expansion plans.

If you have had direct negotiations with the other parties, were they productive?

We have met twice with the airport director and OSU representatives. Both times we talked about providing the WOOSE noise complaint data to them so they could analyze the data and respond. Both times they failed to live up to their promises and in fact tried used some of this data inappropriately as a tool against us rather than respond to the complaints.

When the airport would not or could not contact one of corporations responsible for most of the late night noise, we did. We talked with their chief pilot about the problem and for short time after that things did improve, but the old problems quickly returned.

Are you comfortable with the media's treatment of you and your group?

On the whole the newspaper reports have been exceptionally balanced and fair in providing both sides of the story. The suburban papers have been very kind in publishing many of our letters to the editor. However, there have been several instances where things were not as they should have been.

There have been several instances of factual errors that could have easily been corrected with a quick email or phone call. There has been one instance where the opening line of a front page story stated the exact opposite of the WOOSE position. This was particularly concerning.

One of the two times I was interviewed for TV about this story my words were twisted and taken out of context.

Columbus CEO magazine had a story that was ostensibly about the airport opposition and WOOSE, yet to our knowledge not a single member of the opposition was questioned.

The Columbus Dispatch wrote a pro-airport editorial. Our understanding is they allowed several University staff to come into their office and address several members of the editorial board directly, while WOOSE was provided only 20 minutes to talk with a single editorial board member who seemed to have already made up her mind.

What was it about OSU's initial approach to your complaints that bothered you?

In the beginning OSU completely ignored the community. For example, OSU had a noise hot-line that promised a return call. Very few -- if any -- have received a call back. Early on I asked the University several questions. I only received an answer after several heated letters to the editor made their lack or response public. Worthington was not on OSU's original planning documents. OSU's early public meetings provided no opportunity for discussion and were nothing more than poster shows.

What happens with the conflict now that OSU has decided to delay expansion for further studies? Have you won? Will you be involved in future steps?

The delay has changed very little. It is clear the University has every intention to move forward. All parts of the expansion remain in their planning documents. Dean Baeslack stated in a public forum in August that if they wanted to, the University is sure they could get FAA approval for the entire project right now.

Current Noise impacts have not been addressed. The airport has purchased a radar system and promised a state of the art noise complaint system. Until that system is operational, aircraft noise is addressed, and the noise is reduced, there is still a lot for WOOSE to do.

Have you joined the Airport Environmental Citizen Advocacy Group?

Yes. We have been given a seat on each committee. We meet on Tuesday, November 15 to discuss and nominate our representatives. If time allows you may wish to observe the advisory group meetings schedule for late this month.

Have you achieved you goal?

We have made small steps in progress towards our goals.

  1. Opening up the process. The University has been much more forthright in sharing information, though there are still things they will not provide.
  2. Reducing current noise: The University has announced the purchase of an aircraft monitoring system and are putting together their own aircraft complaint system, but these are still not in place. The noise continues unabated. They have thus far refused to do the studies that could result in decreased noise.
  3. Stopping expansion: As stated above, they have made it clear their intention to expand, so we have not yet succeeded at this goal.

What is your group's desired outcome? Can it include any expansion of the airport, in other words, is there room for compromise? Have you already compromised?

Improving the current terminal and class rooms and repairs to existing facilities are completely acceptable.

Unfortunately, there is very little room for compromise. The expansion of the airport is simply incompatible with the surrounding residential communities.

My personal belief is that their may be room for compromise on small aircraft hangars -- something that will definitely benefit many in the community. However, as currently proposed, these hangars are unacceptable. Further, there needs to be a moratorium on all construction that could result in increased noise until such time as the current problems have been addressed.

As technology and techniques changes, there may be room for the airport to grow in a way that is compatible with the surrounding community. However, until this technology is deployed and wide-spread, such consideration is not possible.

OSU faces the real chance of law suits from members in the community. However, they have the opportunity to compromise and perform noise mitigation and buying avigation easements in exchange for protection from such suits.

What do you think is the likely outcome?

OSU has already made a commitment to address the current noise problems. I personally think we will be successful in having the University perform an FAA approved Part 150 noise study before runway extension to fully study the noise issue and come up with formal noise mitigation and abatement procedures. I think the noise will decrease as a result of the actions taken from the study and cooperative involvement between the University and the community.

I can not predict if OSU will choose to fully expand the airport. I think it is very possible they will maintain the status-quo. However, it is also possible they will choose to proceed with expansion. I predict that if the latter happens they will face lawsuits from many in the community.

What do you say to your opponents who say that the airport was there before you were there?

Worthington and Dublin predate the invention of flight by about 100 years. Both communities predate Don Scott Field by about 150 years. The OSU airport began as a training facility, but opened up to general aviation in the 1960's -- about 20 years after the founding of Riverlea. The complaints started shortly after the corporate flights were allowed in.

One can see that over the years, especially recently, the shift has been from a facility for training and small aircraft pilots to one serving corporate aircraft. The current aircraft director says he was hired in the late 1990's with the express mission of growing business at the airport. The airport advertised itself for a number of years as "Central Ohio's Corporate Gateway." The 1998 Don Scott Field District Area Plan calls for expansion of the airport as an attractor for additional development of OSU owned land along 161. And one only needs to look at the expansion plans to see that the only beneficiary of the bulk of it would be corporate fliers.

WOOSE has never said the airport should go away. It serves a very useful purpose in our community. However, the fact is it is in a heavily residential area incompatible with current and increased corporate operations. The expansion of the airport would benefit very few people at the expense of tens of thousands of people living and working around the area.

Anything you would have done differently?

I wish I would have been involved earlier in the process.

Has the conflict cost you anything?

It has cost numerous volunteers countless hours of time. Many have made personal donations in money and materials, but overall our costs have been small. We have not yet begun our formal fund-raising efforts.

Have you accomplished anything?

  1. Raised awareness of the issues.
  2. Educated the public.
  3. Pressured the University to look at the current problems.
  4. Helped find flaws in the first airport Environmental Assessment, resulting in a redraft.
  5. Six community members (including myself) have been appointed Consulting Parties to the FAA.
  6. Collected more than 1,600 signatures in opposition to the airport expansion.
  7. Pushed the airport expansion as a major issue in the 2005 election of local candidates.
  8. Providing documents and factually based reports to the FAA, OSU, the public and local elected officials.
  9. Delayed expansion.

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