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A balanced, two part report on Don Scott Airport expansion from WOSU NPR 820 AM. It covers the concerns of local citizens, views from two independent consultants, and the current position of the University.

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Transcription

From WOSU 820 AM, National Public Radio (NPR)
Story by WOSU's Dorcas Taylor

Part One

Dorcas Taylor: Kimberly Nixon-Bell doesn't need an alarm clock to wake up some mornings. She hears this: (sound of a roaring jet plane)

Kimberly Nixon-Bell: I have mornings, where the jets begin to leave--at about 6:30 in the morning--and they continue--every six minutes, taking off, until 8:00 in the morning. You know what? My family and I don't get a chance to sleep in. We don't have that luxury.

Dorcas Taylor: Nixon-Bell lives about a mile from the airfield, and is president of the Rau Lane Civic Association. She opposes the runway expansion at Don Scott airport. Nixon-Bell argues the airport is only expanding the runway to accomodate the increased number of corporate jets that currently use the airport. The jets taxi in, but are unable to refuel because the runways are too short, and for Nixon-Bell, that only means more noise. She wants the university to hold public meetings about the project.

Nixon-Bell: ...that it's a slam-dunk, that we're not heard, that the decision's been made, that we're going through a dance, and you know what?--until OSU will start to talk to us, it kind of looks that way. When I talk to the FAA, and, I can't get the answers I want, everybody says, "Talk to the airport director." Everything seems to go back to one source--that worries me.

Dorcas Taylor: Nixon-Bell wants a public forum with airport director Doug Hammon. Last month, Hammon was invited to meet with area residents about their concerns. Initially, Hammon was scheduled to speak, but declined the invitation a few days before the meeting. Nixon-Bell fears by the time residents do get to voice their concerns, a decision will already be made. Not so, says Ohio State spokeswoman Elizabeth Conlisk.

Elizabeth Conlisk: The reason why nobody from the university was there is 'cause really, in fact, the university had not taken a position on whether or not the lengthening of this runway should go forward, because we don't have all the information. We need to make an informed decision, before we move further, and we felt it would really be premature for us to start arguing the merits and getting into detail of what may or may not happen, because, at this point, we really don't know.

Dorcas Taylor: WOSU scheduled an interview with Doug Hammon for this story, but university officials instead made themselves available. Conlisk says there will be a federally-required workshop, in late summer, after an environmental study of the airport and the surrounding area is complete. She said that will happen before the issue goes before the university Board of Trustees, who have the final say on the expansion. Public workshops are a presentation of all the data gathered by researchers. Public comments are usually not heard or debated at workshops. Conlisk insists the runway expansion, or lengthening, as she prefers to call it, is not about economic gains for the university.

Elizabeth Conlisk: Lengthening the runway would enable the size of the aircraft that currently use it to lift up more quickly, which would reduce the noise level, which is something I know that residents are concerned about, and it will also mean safer take-offs and landings.

Dorcas Taylor: Conlisk acknowledges that there is increased traffic in and out of Don Scott airport. Much of it began following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Corporations began using private jets for their employees, instead of commercial flights. Tony Pello is president of "We Oppose Ohio State Expansion," also known as WOOSE. Pello says WOOSE wants Don Scott to remain at its current operating levels.

Tony Pello: These communities are too mature; there's too much building that's gone on; there's too much residential density; that it just isn't feasible to do what they want to do here at this time. The window of opportunity for that growth of the airport closed. The growth that they have scheduled for the airport, closed years ago.

Dorcas Taylor: None of the residents opposed to the runway expansion are opposed to the airport, but Worthington resident Dennis Hennen says that expanding the runway will likely exacerbate current issues with plane noise. Hennen is also a member of WOOSE, the organization opposed to the expansion of the north runway. He says, there is little room for compromise. Hennen fears compromise now could mean those promises are broken later.

Dennis Hennen: A no-build scenario is our preference. You know, we're not opposed to the airport as it is now, you know maybe if they could mitigate the noise now, we would appreciate the airport's not going away. We understand that. So, leaving it as it is now, is our preference.

Dorcas Taylor: WOOSE is circulating a petition among residents of northwest Columbus. They have nearly one thousand signatures. The City of Worthington created a noise complaint phoneline early this year. So far, nearly 4000 complaints have been registered.

Dorcas Taylor, WOSU News

Part Two

Dorcas Taylor: "Complex" is how attorney David Zoll describes the research and data and information-gathering process. Zoll is the Toledo lawyer hired by Worthington City Council to evaluate what affect an expanded north runway could have on the surrounding community. Zoll will eventually make a recommendation about the project to the council. Currently, the university and the Federal Aviation Administration are compiling data for an environmental assessment. The assessment uses current conditions, including noise and other variables to determine the worth of the project.

Zoll says there are three possible outcomes:

David Zoll:

a recommendation to support the project, but only with certain mediation, or to oppose the project

There's also a possibility that more study would be needed.

Another option: we would say that further environmental impact studies would need to be performed before the impacts of the project would be determined.

Dorcas Taylor: In Worthington and other northwest communities, residents are trying to figure out where they fit in to the possible runway expansion. Worthington residents are passionate about their city. John and Steffanie Haueisen serve as tour guides for the area.

John Haueisen: At the bottom of the road, South Street, here is a log cabin, and it has kind of a funny history too...

Dorcas Taylor: The Haueisens are also longtime Worthington residents who live just south of Route 161 in the path of Don Scott's south runway.

(Jet Roar)

The couple says they like to sit outside and watch the ducks and the three blue herons that fish just off the river's bend. But John Haueisen says doing that in peace and quiet isn't as easy as it used to be.

John Haueisen: Some days, there's actually more than one jet each minute, especially like around Muirfield, 'cause you can hear one big jet after another. (sound of small propellor plane) Those, we don't even care about--that's quiet! That's a nice little quiet plane. (laughs) But you know when the jets are coming over, because they really rattle the roofs.

Dorcas Taylor: Increased noise is the chief complaint of many residents, and David Zoll says a vital part of the environmentl study is nighttime noise exposure.

David Zoll: The noise that is generated at night is more invasive than daytime noise. It interrupts people's lives more. So, each flight is weighed much more heavily, if it's a nighttime flight. So, that nighttime data is really important. It's very important that it be accurate and complete.

Dorcas Taylor: Aviation and environmental consultant Dennis Hughes says most environmental studies like the one being conducted by OSU, normally take several years. But Hughes says the university is updating data it has compiled over several years of study of the airport. Hughes' California firm was also hired by Worthington City Council to look over the data collected by the university and the FAA. Hughes says the noise study has been completed. This portion of the research creates maps that show where noise levels are loudest. But Hughes adds there are several more unfinished research areas.

Dennis Hughes: The historic sites, naturally any ground water, air quality, water quality, traffic, in other words, the airport is also part of their master plan wants to basically improve or widen the major thoroughfares around the airport, which has, naturally, some influence on the surrounding community.

Dorcas Taylor: The university plans to hold public workshops that residents can attend later this summer. Attorney David Zoll believes the university intends to wait before making any decisions.

David Zoll: They have at least told me--I believe them--that they have not made a decision as to whether or not they're going to go forward with this project, that they too, are waiting on the results of this environmental assessment. They told me that The Ohio State University is not going to jump to a quick decision on this, that they're going to be deliberate as well.

Dorcas Taylor: Consultant Dennis Hughes adds, OSU has willingly provided all of the information and data it's gathered thus far to his organization. In contrast, he says, often corporations have to be coerced into sharing data. Hughes says what may appear to be inactivity is just the opposite. Collecting data, he says, takes time.

Dennis Hughes: OSU set out on a very aggressive schedule, which--I'm not sure how they established it--but it was not really realistic, and that's why there's been a lull or what people think has been some foot-dragging or whatever, but data cannot be collected within a week or two. It takes a while.

Dorcas Taylor: Attorney David Zoll says the most recently scheduled meeting between the university, the city's representatives, and the environmental investigators was delayed. The FAA requested additional data on night flights, which is collected at Port Columbus. Zoll says the environmental study could end as early as June, or continue for several years. OSU spokeswoman, Elizabeth Conlisk says the university expects the study to be finished by late summer.

Dorcas Taylor, WOSU News