Imagine buying a home in a nice neighborhood in Cheektowaga. It's near Buffalo Niagara International Airport, but federal and local money has been promised to help muffle the noise from the planes flying overhead.
Some homeowners are finding out now that the money isn't coming. Why? Because a new "noise exposure map" given to the Federal Aviation Administration by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority shrinks the area eligible for funding.
It doesn't seem fair to go back on a promise, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has taken on the fight for his constituents. He has sent a letter to the FAA about the NFTA's noise report, calling the revised noise exposure map "arbitrary in its makeup." He urged the FAA to consider extending the mitigation area to the natural boundaries of neighborhoods. That might lessen the possibility of one home being eligible while the one next door is not, and should be explored.
As News staff reporter Aaron Besecker recently wrote, several homeowners recently discovered that if they want the necessary tens of thousands of dollars in sound insulation, they and not the government will have to pay for it. A total of 242 properties are no longer eligible for the noise-abatement program, according to NFTA officials; 440 properties have been completed and another 545 remain eligible for the work.
That's a lot of houses that have been made more liveable, but it doesn't take the sting out of being dropped from the program.
The noise threshold for abatement is 65 decibels, or what's called a 65 day-night level. Any property with noise levels at that point or higher can get relief through the program. Michelle and Junior Borkowski have been told their home on Fath Drive now sits at a level of 64 decibels.
The line has to be drawn somewhere, but not so finely that people like the Borkowskis are now excluded while their next-door neighbors on Fath Drive remain eligible.
The original map was drawn based on noise projections that were made in 2003. But data from 2008 found a reduced impact from airplane noise. The airport is a much quieter facility than it was when the original map was drawn. Airlines have been phasing out older, noisier aircraft in favor of more efficient ones.
The federal government covers 80 percent of the program costs. The local share comes from a $4.50-per-ticket passenger facility fee that is charged for every takeoff and landing at the airport.
So far, about $28.5 million has been spent on the project, including $13.2 million in construction costs.
Following the FAA's instructions, airport officials started from the noisiest areas and worked toward the least-noisy. All homeowners could do was to wait to be reached. Or, like the Borkowskis, find out they're no longer eligible.
Still, this is a voluntary program that airports had to opt in to, and NFTA officials should be given credit for doing so. Even if the FAA approves the new, smaller noise map, by the time the program is over as many as 985 properties will have new soundproofing. Thousands of people will enjoy quieter lives because the NFTA decided to participate in the program.