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Dulling the airport's roar Noise-abatement proposal offers residents relief from years of ear-splitting, rafter-raising jets

Mary Ann and Alfred Violanti have grown accustomed to the roar of aircraft engines that has punctuated their world for the past 45 years.

Living barely 350 yards from the main runway of Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Roxborough Avenue in Cheektowaga, the Violantis don't think twice about pausing during phone conversations, temporarily bumping up the television volume and seeing glasses shake on the kitchen counter.

"Our grandchildren will cover their ears because they're not used to it. And people who come over to visit are shocked at how close the planes come to the house," Mary Ann Violanti said.

But life near the Buffalo airport soon will be quieter for the Violantis and residents of more than 1,700 homes and apartments in Cheektowaga and Amherst, thanks to a $60 million airport noise-reduction effort called QuieterHome.

Over the next 10 years, residents affected by the roar of jets will be offered a range of sound-dampening home improvements, including triple-pane windows, improved insulation, sound-proof doors, and state-of-the-art furnaces and central air conditioning -- all paid for by a combination of 80 percent federal funds, and 10 percent matches from the state and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

There are no out-of-pocket costs for homeowners who agree to take part in the voluntary program. The only requirement is that participants sign an agreement that limits their rights to sue the NFTA for issues stemming from aircraft operations.

The authority has invited affected residents to a public information session at 7 p.m. tonight in Maryvale High School, 1050 Maryvale Drive, Cheektowaga, to provide details of QuieterHome. The noise-reduction effort is part of a national FAA initiative that involves dozens of airports.

"I am overwhelmed at all the work they're going to be doing on our house. It's the best thing that could happen to us," Mary Ann Violanti said.

The goal is to lower the decibel level for those living near the airport, and along its flight paths. The hope is that noise levels will be reduced and indoor air quality improved.

"This program is going to improve everyday life for an enormous number of people," said NFTA Chairman Gregory Stamm. "This is a huge initiative that fits with our goal of being a good neighbor in this community."

Doug Zywicki, a Dick Road resident whose home is just one-tenth of a mile from the airport runways, has agreed to take part in the program.

"I think because I've lived here so long, I don't realize how loud it is anymore," Zywicki said.

He gave high marks to Syracuse-based C&S Engineering, the project management contractor, saying the firm did an extremely thorough job inspecting his home and explaining the proposed work. Zywicki also said he's not concerned about the need to sign an agreement. "A lawsuit has never crossed my mind. My feeling is I bought a house next to the airport and this is a freebie. I'm fine with that."

The Buffalo airport, which handles 234 arrivals and departures per day, plus another 150 cargo and general aviation flights, also is making operational adjustments to cut the din. Those changes involve runway assignments, departure and arrival corridors, and establishing quiet times, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. when engine maintenance "run-ups" will be restricted.

The noise-abatement effort, which is part of a national initiative by the Federal Aviation Administration, began with a series of public hearings in 2003. As it enters the remediation stage, 28 local homes were earmarked for renovations this year, with the likelihood that another 22 will be added. That number will swell to 150 dwellings in 2008, more than 200 households in 2009, and will continue to build through 2017.

The pilot group of homes slated for noise abatement work this year includes dwellings subjected to the highest airport noise levels, ranging from 65 to 75 decibels. However, the NFTA plans to schedule work in less noisy neighborhoods, at the outer fringes of the noise "foot print," as early as 2008.

Those affected homes are located up to three miles away from the airport, at Nokomis Parkway and George Urban Boulevard in Cheektowaga at the southwest edge of the targeted area, and McKinley Avenue and Main Street in Amherst at the northeast perimeter.

The program will also bring some peace and quiet to Maryvale Primary School, on Nagel Drive in Cheektowaga, ending the long tradition of the "Maryvale Pause."

"We joke about it. The teachers will be in the middle of a lesson and need to pause until an airplane passes and the students can hear them again," said Maryvale Superintendent Gary L. Brader. The program earmarks $5.3 million to install sound-stopping windows and doors, central air conditioning and other noise dampening materials at the Pre-K through Grade 2 school. "It dovetails nicely with our own capital-improvement effort to expand the library and upgrade our computer lab," Brader said. "Now it will all be done at once."

Another non-residential beneficiary of the noise-reduction program will be Our Lady Help of Christians Church on Union Road. Specific plans and cost estimates for that remediation are not yet available.

The NFTA said 20 of the 22 homeowners who received noise-abatement offers in the first phase have agreed to participate. The two who opted out of Phase One indicated that current situations in their lives preclude them from renovating their homes this year. All targeted homeowners will have the option of scheduling their remediation anytime during the decade-long program.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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