Noise mitigation plan may finally reach city council

The final draft is still awaiting official approval from Westfield City Council

The control tower and a plane hangar at Barnes. (Image Courtesy: The Westfield News)

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) — The final draft of the noise mitigation program for Barnes Municipal Airport is expected to get in front of city council next week, but not without more concerns coming up from neighbors and politicians.

The final draft is still awaiting official approval from Westfield City Council, and some councilors are worried that there will not be enough time to fully go over it before they need to make any decisions or suggestions, as well as have their concerns fully addressed. Meanwhile, Wyle Acoustical Engineering, who is the firm in charge of the Noise Compatibility Program (NCP), wants the city council to act on it as soon as they can, which would be Aug. 18.

“I have heard concerns from some residents about the whole noise mitigation program and having it not be exactly what they thought it was going to be,” Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell said. O’Connell is part of the legislative and ordinance city council subcommittee along with Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski and Ward 4 Councilor Ralph Figy, which is where the final draft is expected to be reviewed on Aug. 18.

“We’ve been looking at it and some other councilors and I have been concerned, and now we’re under the gun to get this voted on and approved in the next meeting,” she said.

“In the past I have voted to support the program but I am reconsidering that position now and I still have some questions,” she added.

O’Connell said that although the noise mitigation program does not affect her ward but rather wards 1 and 6, she has still heard concerns from residents in Westfield. For the most part, these concerns have regarded the quality of windows and doors that homes have received following the sound insulation measures.

However, O’Connell sees that the program could also open the door for US National Guard expansion in the long run. She said that there were connections between the National Guard and two wells near Barnes Municipal Airport that are part of the Barnes aquifer that were found to be polluted. They were shut down in late May of this year after studies found PFOA and PFOS chemicals, which can be found in many items including carpeting, clothing, paper packaging and firefighting materials typically used in airfields like Barnes Municipal Airport. Currently, the Barnes aquifer produces about 1.2 billion gallons of water a year to Westfield and several surrounding communities.

O’Connell said that if the National Guard expanded, then there could be more issues of pollutants entering the aquifer, which would put people unnecessarily at risk. She also said that these views are in no way anti-military, and that she supports the armed forces.

In addition to the possibility of pollution, people in Ward 6 have had to deal with changes to the plan. This has resulted in their houses going from sound insulation to complete acquisition, which is where the home is purchased and demolished.

“The big issue is that the map changed,” William Onyski, Ward 6 Councilor, said. “Every five years they have to redo the map and amend the program and that happened this year.

“And unfortunately, it took a lot of people who were getting buy outs who now aren’t getting them, and people who were expecting to get noise mitigation now may not be getting it.”

Initially, according to the first agreement, five homes were up for acquisition, but now 25 homes are up for acquisition, according to Jane Verbeck from Wyle Acoustical Engineering.

The changes, according to Onyski, came from FAA regulations being changed.

“When they did the map initially, it was based on the number of flights, along with location of the houses,” Onyski said. “This new map has taken into consideration the terrain and that changed it.”

This has led to one home on Cara Lane going up for acquisition, Onyski said, while leaving the home beside it free of any mitigation or acquisition. This is one of the issues that has Onyski worried—an apparent lack of consistency.

Another issue comes in regards to people who do not want to leave their homes. There can be a fear that without leaving, the sound may be too much, and those who do not opt for acquisition are not automatically qualified for sound insulation.

“The sad thing about it is these are people’s homes and they invested a lot and moved in, and they aren’t all ready for retirement or to take the cash,” Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski, said.

This is why Verbeck wants the subcommittee to get the NCP discussed and brought before the city council for approval—so issues can be addressed.

She said that the Westfield Airport Commission has already reviewed the NCP final draft and made suggestions to the legislative and ordinance subcommittee, which is what’s currently awaiting review and approval on Aug. 18.

Verbeck said that the NCP final draft was initially submitted to the Westfield Airport Commission in May, and should have been eligible for review by city council in June. However, the document never made the agenda for the council, she said. Even airport manager Brian Barnes sent a letter to the Mayor, Verbeck said, requesting that the NCP be on the agenda in June.

At last though, the NCP is going to be in front of city council members in late-August. Until then, many people wait and wonder what will become of their homes–if anything.

Copyright 2016 The Westfield News

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