Court ruling keeps MAC lawsuit airborne

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A ruling by District Court Judge Steven C. Aldrich denying an appeal by the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) in a class-action lawsuit could give powerful leverage to people who want the airport to honor its 1996 vow to expand the home insulation program.

In 1996, the MAC decided to expand airport capacity by building the “north/south” runway, which runs parallel to Cedar Avenue. To make sure city officials wouldn’t throw roadblocks in their way, the MAC agreed to a mitigation plan that included expanding the noise insulation program out to the DNL (Day-night-level) 60 noise contour.

The north/south runway opened in 2005, but the MAC hasn’t even started to deliver on its promise to insulate homes out to DNL 60. The MAC’s aversion to making good on its noise-proofing promises has compelled Minneapolis, Richfield and other affected cities to take the airport to court. The court battle could stretch out for months, or even years, but recent rulings against the MAC are making things look a lot brighter for homeowners.

Highlights of the March 28 ruling
Several months ago the court asked the MAC to produce any type of statement it made from 1996 to 1998 saying it was not planning on acoustically insulating homes in DNL 60 to 64 contours. A key component of the MAC’s defense in the class action case is their claim that they never promised a “full” acoustical insulation package out to the DNL 60 contours. Consequently, the court asked for airport documents from before 1998 that would support the MAC’s claim. But with months to search, airport officials still haven’t been able to find those documents and show them to the judge. That failure hasn’t made a good impression on the court, and has noise activists chuckling in a knowing way.

The court’s decision also faulted the MAC for purposefully creating the impression in the crucial expansion negotiating years before 1998 that they were serious about their promise to insulate out to the DNL 60 contours. The March 28 ruling also chastised the MAC with the reminder that: “It should not be easy for public bodies to break commitments on which so many public and private entities and persons have claimed to rely.”

Different paths to the same destination
In addition to the class action lawsuit, two environmental lawsuits have been brought against the MAC by the cities of Minneapolis, Eagan and Richfield. A separate suit has been filed by the city of Bloomington.

The homeowners in the class-action suit are represented by Minneapolis-based Zimmerman Reed, PLLP. The attorney for the homeowners, Bob Moilanen, addressed Southside Pride’s request for an explanation of the different lawsuit tracks: “The common thread between all of the lawsuits is that, in their own separate ways, they all seek to provide relief to people suffering from airport noise.

“However, each is taking a different route to address the problem. Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan seek to have the court find that, by failing to provide sound insulation, the MAC has violated certain state environmental standards. The city of Bloomington is suggesting that the MAC violated its own Environmental Impact Statement.

“We [class action] are alleging that the MAC breached contracts, commitments and promises to the citizens. Each suit is going about trying to obtain similar relief, but in a different way.”

Now that the court has decided that the class-action suit should proceed, another ruling deciding if class-action status will be granted will be made on or before August 1. Attorney Moilanen expects a fierce fight from the MAC over that decision. Class-action status would allow a minimum of 5,000 affected individuals owning as many as 4,000 homes to work together as one against the MAC.

For the curious, Zimmerman Reed is posting court decisions, eligibility criteria for residents and case updates on its “Web site”:http://www.zimmreed.com or call Melissa Scovronkski with the airport at 612/726-8141 for information on your residence’s proximity to noise concerns.

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