Hillsboro, Toxic Lead Pollution, and the Next HARE Meeting

During much of the first month of this new year, we have heard news about lead poisoning in the Flint, Michigan water supply. Most recently, we all learned how government workers were provided bottled water to not have to rely on the water soon to be announced as toxic. All of this to save a few bucks, with evident indifference for the health and welfare of the larger community: the residents of Flint.

At the Hillsboro Airport [KHIO] in Oregon, lead has been an ongoing issue. In fact, the Hillsboro Airport officially emits 1,400 pounds of lead into the air, at an airport with numerous nearby residential neighborhoods and even schools. The vast majority of these lead emissions are created by the one airport business that imports students from across the world, and makes a large profit teaching them to fly at KHIO, with tens of thousands of flights circling low over Hillsboro neighborhoods. And, just like happened in Flint, the Port of Portland and the FAA are resisting and delaying changes needed to reduce this dangerous pollutant, all with evident indifference for the health and welfare of the larger community: the residents of Hillsboro.

The February 3rd HARE Meeting

When they have an impact problem such as aviation noise or lead pollution, a common strategy for airport authorities is to create a citizen group.

20130821.. 'Great Quote by Upton SInclair' (screencap of aiREFORM Post)

(click on image to learn more about Upton Sinclair and FAA’s inability to ‘understand’ a controller error at Camarillo)

Such groups typically consist almost entirely of pro-business interests, as well as many who are actual pilots or otherwise economically connected to the airport. And, as noted 80-years ago by Upton Sinclair, such groups have an astonishing inability to fix problems, surpassed by an astonishing ability to serve the status quo.

The airport authority at Hillsboro is the Port of Portland. Years ago they created the ‘Hillsboro Airport Issues Roundtable’, HAIR. For whatever reason (maybe the fact that their group was dominated by old white guys, who tend to have evident follicle-impairment issues?), the name was ‘upgraded’ to HARE, standing for ‘Hillsboro Airport Roundtable Exchange’. At any rate, the group of 22 people meets quarterly, to create subcommittees, to field subcommittee update reports, to hear Public Comments, and generally to project at least an appearance of ‘citizen involvement’ in the management of the activities and impacts of their local airport. Oh, and for the record, the evidence resoundingly suggests: whenever FAA and airport authorities convene a citizen committee, the group is routinely and profoundly biased against the citizenry and for the industry.

Here is a link to the Port’s HARE webpage (including a list of the members), and below is a scrollable PDF copy of the agenda for the coming meeting.

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Success in Santa Monica: Prop 65 Signs Posted for Toxic Airport Lead

The situation has persisted for decades: FAA and airport management have stalled and obstructed citizen efforts to remedy the many adverse impacts caused by users of the airport in Santa Monica [KSMO]. Not just the noise impacts, but also health concerns, including toxic lead (still added to AvGas!) and soot and other hazardous air pollutants.KSMO.20160122.. Martin Rubin pointing at Prop 65 sign at observation area

And so it is a great accomplishment to see that somebody within the city’s government has finally posted Prop 65 warnings at the public observation deck.

Thank You! And, kudos to CRAAP and others who have persisted in pressing the airport management for transparent disclosure of these SMO airport health risks. [click here for a PDF copy of the CRAAP news article]

KSMO.20160122.. Prop 65 sign at observation area

We all hope FAA will halt their obstructionism and allow city officials to resume the appropriate level of ‘local control’ needed to make SMO an airport that adds to quality of life in the community. Maybe the entire airport will be shut down, or maybe the runway will be shortened and jets disallowed. But, whatever happens, we need to get away from the current imbalance that benefits so few at the expense of so many.

All They Want is ‘LOCAL CONTROL’

The Mayor of Santa Monica lays it out very clearly, in an article published by a local paper, The Argonaut. The 1/6/2016 article presents a set of questions to community leaders, asking them to predict what citizens might expect to see during the new year on important Santa Monica issues. Here is the response by Mayor Vazquez:

What will happen next in the city’s battle
with the FAA over Santa Monica Airport?

– by Tony Vazquez

“The controversy over the Santa Monica Airport will continue into the New Year and most likely for years to come. The facts are Santa Monicans have voted to take control over our airport land. Yet the FAA continues to favor aviation interests to the detriment of the health and safety of the families that live near the airport.

After almost two years, including four extensions of time to render a decision, on Dec. 4 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its director’s determination that may affect the timing of Santa Monica regaining local control over our airport. The issue before the FAA was whether the city’s assurances stemming from a 1994 FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant expired in 2014 or whether the assurances expire in 2023. According to the determination, the assurances expire in 2023. The implication is that the city must continue to adhere to federal grant assurances and operate the airport accordingly until 2023. The city disagrees with the determination.

We believe the determination is factually incorrect and inconsistent with best grant management practices. Here’s why. Airports that receive FAA grants are obligated to meet and maintain certain assurances. We understand that and have fully complied. However, federal law states that after 20 years from the date of acceptance of the grant offer, the city — just like any other FAA grantee — is no longer subject to the assurances. Santa Monica accepted the grant in 1994; therefore the determination is wrong on the facts and is not sustainable.

The determination is not the final word; it is only the first. The city is entitled to two levels of appeals within FAA. The next level would be with an FAA hearing officer. Should the hearing officer agree with the director, the city may appeal to the FAA associate director of airports. And, of course, if the FAA associate director sides with previous conclusions, the city may pursue our rights in federal court.

The City Council has yet to decide as a body whether to appeal the determination. That decision will come in 2016. As mayor, I can say the city is fully committed to realizing the will of the voters, who in 2014 voted overwhelming in favor of Measure LC (Local Control).

We hope FAA senior management will rectify the agency’s initial error. Regardless, the city will keep fighting for local control over the airport land. The voters have spoken, and we will never give up!”

— Tony Vazquez is mayor of Santa Monica.

Mayor Vazquez accurately depicts the Delay-Game FAA plays, to benefit a handful of aviation interests against the health and quality-of-life interest of thousands of local residents. This is an egregious abuse of authority by FAA. The laws that Congress creates need to protect every community, to ensure they retain substantial ‘Local Control’ of their local community airport. Quite reasonably, local control should include setting the hours and intensity of use of their local airport, and protecting against pattern-noise operations such as skydiving operations or razor-thin NextGen routes. Airports need to serve communities first.

The substantial community problems around the Santa Monica Airport are caused mostly by bizjets and flight training. Frankly, these problems could easily be solved, improving both local environmental quality and safety, if only FAA would cooperate.  The solutions needed at KSMO need to go far beyond Santa Monica, as there are dozens of other U.S. communities denied local control by an FAA that behaves like an irresponsible out-of-state landlord. Notably, the jet-related impacts at Santa Monica have gone on for more than fifty years (check out this 1967 news article, showing a time when local control was asserted). Today’s FAA, using public funds to demand full-term compliance with 20-year grant assurance obligations, is sharply out of step with the need to serve the PUBLIC. Today’s FAA is using these grant obligations solely to deny local control.

Perhaps, new legislation is needed, to force FAA to restore meaningful local control. As part of that legislation, set Santa Monica free: let this community resume local control of it’s very impactful airport. Every community should have a contractual right to end obligations after 10-years, and even sooner if they refund a pro-rated portion of the grant amount.

Efforts to Limit Federal Subsidies Paid to Helicopter Schools

Aviation officials never lose a chance to spread the illusion that airports are incredible generators of money. To be sure, money does tend to be spent around airports, but most often, that money is not being created but is instead in the form of a subsidy. A massive annual subsidy, to the tune of billions per year, mostly collected from airline passengers and then carefully allocated by FAA, with a maximized strategic political effect.

One way the airports are propped up is with money for flight instruction, especially via GI Bill subsidies for veterans who want to become pilots. Unfortunately, there have been many flight schools that see these veterans as a ripe opportunity to access federal money. And, the industry is top-heavy with qualified pilots, which not only drives down pay, but also places more pressure on pilots to bend rules and cut costs. Here is a PDF of an article from last March, looking at two helicopter flights schools in the Southwest.

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

That’s the background, illustrating the need for federal officials to take action against waste, fraud and abuse. Four months after the article appeared in the LA Times, an almost completely unrelated legislative proposal was submitted to Congress. After spending more than four months waiting in the Committee on Veterans Affairs, the legislative report was moved to the floor of Congress. Needless to say, the helicopter industry is not happy with the cleanup efforts.

(click on image to view original article at AviationPros)

(click on image to view original article at AviationPros)

The main lobbyist for the helicopter industry, HAI, has issued a ‘Call for Action’. HAI’s claims were not validated in the HAI-link to the Legislative Report (e.g., there is no mention of the words ‘helicopter’ or ‘flight’ in the 27-page report). Nonetheless, HAI claims that there is a ‘Section 306’ with language calling for severe limits on how much GI Bill benefits a single student can apply each year.

In  other words, HAI claims the legislation seeks to end taxpayer subsidies for students who spend $200K to $500K in a single year of part-time helicopter training. So, like all active lobbyists, HAI is using the industry media outlets to gin up a campaign, aimed at re-enlisting the support of elected officials, so that the rich subsidies to a few aviation operators can continue.

One wonders: what fraction of a typical rich federal aviation subsidy has to be reinvested, as a campaign contribution or to buy the service of lobbyists, to keep the whole balloon from crashing?

There can be Many Winners With this Legislative Proposal

Waste can be reduced, but we also can improve local quality of life in communities near these helicopter flight schools. If Congress cuts helicopter training benefits, we will not have to endure as much low-level helicopter noise. And, helicopters are not just noisy; they guzzle a lot of gas while beating all that air, just to stay aloft. As the reality of climate change comes into focus, this form of aviation should become a ripe target for a quick extinction.


See also:
  • H.R.3106 – a Congressional webpage with summaries, actions, links to documents. Perhaps the ‘Section 306’ is a rider that has not yet been posted online?

Remarks by Petitioners Nationwide

People are impacted by aviation noise Everywhere!

Click on page two to view some great remarks from Chicago, Milton, Longmont, Santa Monica, Phoenix, Zephyrhills, and even Tetonia, Idaho! Scroll or text-search the name of your town, to see what others are seeing where you live.

Let’s get more petition signatures (and more great remarks!) to help FAA clean up this mess….

Please Sign This Petition!!

(click on image to read the petition at Change.org)

(click on image to read the petition at Change.org)

A small group of noise-impacted citizens have worked together to create a petition that is generally aimed at:

  1. restoring local control on airport environmental impacts;
  2. maximizing aviation transparency (so impacted neighbors can use real data to efficiently resolve aviation noise problems); and
  3. stripping FAA of the environmental regulation authorities they have increasingly abused (…in apparent ‘service’ to the airlines and other aviation operators).

This past year has been extraordinary for the extent of news coverage on aviation noise impacts. The highest profile news stories have involved FAA’s botched NextGen implementations at major commercial airports near Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, LaGuardia, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Seattle. But the loss of quality of life caused by excessive aircraft noise also happens near smaller airports, particularly those with operations using repetitive flight patterns and noisier aircraft types, such as:

  • AIR TOURISM: In places like the Grand Canyon and Hawaii, the vistas are astounding, but the quality of the experience is destroyed by the loud ‘thump-thump-thump’ of commercial air tour helicopters. The huge profits made by the operators come at a great ‘cost’ to other park visitors. The National Park Service has worked for decades to create meaningful aviation noise regulation, but their efforts are always stymied by FAA and the very operators FAA fails to regulate.
    — When are we going to take FAA out of the business of impeding the regulation of aviation noise in parks?
  • BANNER-TOWS: there have been seven newsworthy banner tow accidents thus far in 2015, with multiple injuries and one fatality.
    — Do we really need noisy airplanes to sell us insurance and beer?
  • CLOSED-PATTERN FLIGHT-INSTRUCTION: The busiest airport in Oregon is not Portland, but Hillsboro, where FAA recently spent tens of millions to add another runway to accommodate flight instruction. A single company makes a huge amount by importing student pilots from around the world, especially China, to train in the local airport traffic patterns. The problem: the training aircraft burn mostly leaded aviation fuel, and they fly low over neighborhoods and schools.
    — If we are importing students from China, shouldn’t FAA ensure they train away from our homes, perhaps at large remote airports?
  • HELICOPTER AIR CHARTERS: Tens of thousands of residents on Long Island endure invasive noise when financially elite passengers take expensive helicopter rides out to the Hamptons. The town of East Hampton has for decades refused to accept FAA money, so they can regain local control. FAA is fighting them every way they can.
    — Shouldn’t FAA allow local officials to serve local taxpaying citizens, by imposing reasonable regulations on local airport activities?
  • JET AIR CHARTERS: Just like at East Hampton, on the West Coast the people in Santa Monica have fought for decades to reclaim control of their local airport. Their public health concerns include air pollution, noise pollution and the lack of needed safety zones to handle more than 14,000 jet operations per year. Homes are literally across a chain-link fence from the airplanes; so close that lawn furniture is blown over when charter jets and bizjets turn to take the runway. Jet fumes (and leaded fumes from the flight-training planes) continue to choke neighbors. The airport simply cannot contain dangerous runway excursions by jets, but still, FAA’s lawyers continue to take administrative and legal actions against the local authorities, blocking their efforts to assert local control.
    — The impacts at Santa Monica are so egregious and so thoroughly documented, it just makes no sense that these good citizens have to keep fighting for clean air and peace. Will Congress finally step in and force FAA to allow reasonable regulations by local officials?
  • NEWS-COPTERS & OTHER LOW-FLYING HELICOPTERS: FAA’s rules effectively mean that there are no reasonable minimum altitudes and helicopters can be flown at any altitude. The result is a growing problem of very noisy and invasive news helicopters, as well as privately owned copters used to commute between the office and residential helipads.
    — Given the high noise levels of helicopters, isn’t it time that FAA set rules that force them to fly higher, further from our homes and schools?
  • SKYDIVING: These airplanes are modified to climb faster (and get as many trips in each hour), making them among the noisiest airplanes in use. These operators also have a habit of ‘offsetting’ their climbs 4- to 8-miles away from the airport, so that impacted residents have no idea that all-day-long airplane drone is related to skydiving.
    — Given the concentrated noise impacts of skydiving, isn’t it time for FAA to adopt meaningful regulations and environmental review, to protect the rights of people to maintain quality of life?

So, PLEASE sign this Petition! And, please also spend a minute and share your personal comment. Let everyone know what is happening where you live…

…which airport impacts your life, and how has FAA
failed to help you and your neighbors?

Interesting Reader Comments Submitted to AOPA’s Blog Post about Santa Monica Airport

One week ago, aviation lobby group AOPA posted an article about the fight for local control of the airport in Santa Monica, CA [KSMO]. Some interesting reader comments came in before the comment period was closed (an apparent 7-day standard comment period). Looking closely at these 31 comments, a few points are clear:

  1. ‘pro-airport’ commenters tend to rely on arguments that (a) the airport was there first (so neighbors should just ‘suck it up’), (b) elected officials are greedy and corrupt, (c) vocal airport neighbors are also just greedily trying to make money by closing the airport, (d) neighbors suffer from a ‘class-envy’ against wealthy aircraft operators, and (e) airports are closing all over the country. None of these arguments are supported by any rational evidence.
  2. ‘pro-local control’ commenters focus on health impacts connected to air pollution (including lead) and noise pollution, as well as safety issues such as the lack of adequate runway protection zones (needed to safely contain accidental runway excursions, protecting both pilots and neighbors). They appear to trust that their elected officials are NOT corrupt and are truly aimed at serving the public, including eliminating the pollution/health issues, and developing more needed park space.
  3. shockingly, at least two pro-airport commenters advocate eminent domain property seizures to protect their right to use the airport property. Ironically, one of the largest appeals of aviation is a sense of freedom and self-sufficiency while flying, and yet here we have aviators seemingly oblivious to the liberties of airport neighbors.
  4. It would be appropriate (and advisable?) for Santa Monica City Council members to quickly address the rumors of ‘conflict of interest’. Specifically, the Council should address this charge and have each member declare their status, related to the possibility that they have a financial interest that would benefit from the closing or scaling-down of the airport. This entire matter would take just 5-10 minutes at the next Council meeting, and would put all Council members on the record.
  5. Obviously, if there are any Council members with a conflict of interest, they need to both disclose and fully recuse from future decisions.

To read the archived comments, please see page two of this Post.

Is AOPA ‘Muck-Raking’ on Santa Monica Airport?

(click on image to view article at AOPA.org)

(click on image to view article at AOPA.org)

For more than three decades now, neighbors near KSMO have struggled to regain control of their local airport, but FAA has thrown an endless series of delay tactics back at them. Last Fall, the local voters overwhelmingly passed Measure LC – and defeated Measure D, a competing ‘no-changes-to-the-airport’ measure heavily funded from a distance by AOPA, NBAA and other aviation interest groups. Many locals are eager to move forward, and a few aviation interests want nothing to change; meanwhile, FAA still delays … and delays … and delays.

A few weeks ago, the Santa Monica City Council followed a ‘best-practice’ commonly used by many healthy communities: they invited dozens of their most active citizens to attend a retreat and go through a process to refine goals. Three hours later the list was done, and the top three items included both the airport and affordable housing. Good for them. Then, a few weeks later, AOPA’s PR people posted a spin attempt with the contextually absurd headline: “Santa Monica puts airport ahead of homelessness”

The article includes a quote by the AOPA president, saying: “It’s almost laughable that the city’s ongoing attempts to close the airport would take precedence over trying to address issues like homelessness, infrastructure, and education, but that’s essentially what the city council has decided.”

Huh??

For an unbiased report, just click on page two to read a copy of an article by Nick Cervantes, of the Santa Monica Lookout. He discusses the 40-participants who spent 3-hours at the Sunday retreat to arrive at their newest priorities.

A PETITION: Asking FAA to Protect People, Too (not just the aviation interests)

(click on image to read and sign petition at Change.org)

(click on image to read and sign petition at Change.org)

The Santa Monica Airport has an enormous environmental impact on neighbors, due not just to leaded aviation fuel, but also to idling bizjets using a too-short runway too close to dense neighborhoods. There is huge capacity for these bizjets to instead use LAX, Van Nuys, Burbank, and other much larger airports with longer and safer runways.

This petition is by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who has been a leading advocate for fixing these problems at Santa Monica Airport. He and others have worked for many decades on a problem FAA still refuses to address. The community is so intent on regaining local control of their airport, that they chose to quit accepting FAA grant funds each year, to be released from the strings known as ‘Grant Assurances’. They stayed the course for decades, and gained that freedom just two weeks ago. Now, FAA needs to let local authorities do the environmental management that FAA has failed to do.

The Two Sides at Santa Monica: ‘For Aviation’ vs. ‘Against Aviation Lead Pollution’

On July 1st, neighbors of the Santa Monica Airport hope to see a measure of local airport control FINALLY restored. Pilot groups are concerned about this, fearing business jets may have to use nearby airports with longer/safer runways, and maybe even seeing a full closure of the airport [KSMO] to become a park. The pilots feel a need to promote their activity and the survival of their airport, despite the fact that it is the largest source of lead in the local airshed. So, they recently got a reporter to post a nice (some might say ‘fluffy’?) pro-aviation article in the local paper.

The issues at Santa Monica go far beyond toxic lead pollution, but this article and the comments it generated offer a clear insight into just how far apart the parties are. One side completely ignores a serious health impact while doing a ‘rah! rah!’ campaign for aviation; the other side says, ‘wait a minute, you are poisoning our children!’

For the record, the lead is used by the smaller planes and helicopters, particularly those used for flight instruction. The lead is NOT used by the business jets; they are powered by ‘Jet fuel’, which produces a different set of serious air quality problems, including particulates.

Here is a JPEG copy. Check it out, and then be sure to read the reader comments that follow the online article (one is copied below):20150610scp.. Third-graders go plane crazy at Santa Monica Airport (J.Bates, SantaMonicaDailyPress, 1p)

Here is one of the reader comments:

“As a parent, I wish they had disclosed the HEALTH RISKS to our CHILDREN from the visit to the SANTA MONICA AIRORT. Currently, leaded AVGAS (used by the aircraft at this airport) is the largest source of lead air pollution in the US, causing emissions of over 500 tons of lead per year. Recent research has found that children living and going to school near general aviation airports have higher blood lead levels than children living farther away, and studies have linked high childhood lead levels to a host of serious health problems.”

See also: