With the Federal Aviation Administration advancing its NextGen air traffic control system, everyone in Orange County needs to truly understand the impact it is already having in our communities around John Wayne Airport while the FAA debate insists there will be no significant impact.
Residents in the region are experiencing drastic differences in the air traffic above their neighborhoods and businesses. People are becoming vocal about the changes in flight patterns that in different cases create more noise, more exhaust residue and air traffic in parts of the county where there never was before.
Yet the FAA’s critical Environmental Assessment concluded the project has “no significant impact.” That assessment is incredible given the volume of impact county residents are already reporting.
The FAA maintains it will “wherever possible” adhere to the traditional arrival and departure flight patterns established in and out of JWA but there is no commitment to our traditional, negotiated and agreed upon flight paths.
The FAA pushed straight through the process of updating their system here with little regard for important input from residents, environmental groups and government leaders. The lack of serious cooperation is particularly troubling in Orange County because of our delicate environment and the established JWA Settlement Agreement that’s been in place for more than three decades and, by contract and practice, must be adhered to.
I’ve been a protector of our communities on airport issues for more than 20 years and I promise this is a fight we cannot back away from. We fought to preserve the integrity of flight paths and the essential noise curfew too long and too hard to allow the federal agency to upend any of it.
Of course, the FAA wants to argue the cases 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., making it difficult for cities and citizens to participate. The federal agency successfully argued for a change in venue for all lawsuits filed against the NextGen project. The cases will be heard in the D.C. District Court, the home jurisdiction of the FAA.
Sure, the federal agency can check all the boxes and contend they’ve completed all the required diligence in addressing community concerns. The FAA offered a public comments opportunity but closed that window too soon after all the ER data was released. Our communities and government agencies didn’t have enough time to properly digest the material in order to raise informed objections.
Upon thorough review, our county’s independent environmental expert engineering firm concluded the ER is legally inadequate.
The FAA can say they considered all our concerns and answered all our questions, but when people are seeing big differences in flight patterns, hearing them, with more frequency, how can the FAA say there is no significant environmental impact? It’s impossible. We now have witnesses. Lots of them.
Orange County residents can make an impact by writing objection letters to the FAA and our government leaders in Washington. This establishes a record of dissent for the federal powers to consider and can make an impact in court. On my county website you can see my PowerPoint presentation on the issues along with a sample letter outlining county objections.
The goal is to have the court examine the process the FAA used in making its environmental determination and have the original Environmental Assessment scrubbed. We can support the NextGen project if it’s implemented properly with the accurate assessment of traffic, noise and pollution. If we can get the court to toss out the assessment and force the FAA to re-address it with legal and appropriate analysis from all stakeholders, we can force the FAA to keep its commitment to our communities.
Todd Spitzer is the third district supervisor on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
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