Commentary: JWA continues to threaten our quality of life

During the 1950s, Southern California culture was ablaze with anything considered chic, sophisticated and novel. Artists, designers and architects were pushing boundaries in style, design, architecture and invention.

World War II was over, and the economy was thriving. The Orange County Airport (as it was originally named) was in its youth. Despite its 1920s founding as a private landing strip, it had been utilized as a federal military base during the war.

Afterward, the small airport was returned to the County of Orange with a deed stipulation that it be used commercially. The new commercial flights were gaining in number as population, local business and tourism grew. Visitors flocked to the Newport Beach area to get a taste of the coastline fun, as well as to visit the newly opened Disneyland theme park.

During the early 1960s, many homes were built along Newport's Back Bay. In 1967, a 22,000-square foot terminal was built at the airport to accommodate 400,000 passengers annually. In 1979, the airport was renamed John Wayne Airport (JWA).

Due to ever-growing population, business and tourism in Orange County, expansion has never ended at John Wayne Airport. In 2011, nearly 9 million passengers flew in and out of JWA. Although the rate of expansion has been inconsistent over the years, this increase in passengers averages out to be approximately 187,000 per year since 1967, or at a theoretic expansion rate of 2.1%.

One can see how this progressive expansion has occurred. However, by the 1980s enough local citizens were upset about the personal and local environmental impacts of John Wayne Airport, that two nonprofit organizations had arisen to legally fight the expansion, the Airport Working Group (AWG) and Stop Polluting Our Newport (SPON).

In 1985, a lawsuit against the airport was avoided by the signage of an Initial Settlement Agreement between the County of Orange, the City of Newport Beach, AWG and SPON. This agreement imposed noise restrictions, limited the number of daily departures, and created limitations on the terminal size, departure lounges, parking space and more. Nearly 20 years later, the Settlement Agreement was amended, allowing but minimizing the growth.

We are currently working on the second amendment to the Settlement Agreement (which expires in 2015), working to keep the expansion to a minimum, while maintaining the GANO (General Aviation Noise Ordinance), arguably the most comprehensive and effective commercial flight curfew regulations in the United States. It regulates the hours of operation (allowing flights between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday).

It also enforces maximum permitted noise levels via 10 permanent noise monitoring stations strategically placed along the departure route up Upper Newport Bay. To adhere to GANO-permitted noise levels, departure procedures out of JWA include avoidance of high power settings at low altitude. Most aircraft also depart at a steep climb and reduce power around 600 feet to minimize noise.

The importance of our fight to minimize John Wayne Airport's expansion cannot be overstated. With the above-mentioned ongoing growth of JWA have come considerable noise pollution, air pollution and water pollution. The departure procedure (STREL) takes every flight out of the airport over Newport's Back Bay and Balboa Island.

It threatens our natural resources, our wildlife, public health, real estate values and more. With every flight that leaves John Wayne Airport following a flight path over Newport's precious Back Bay (which is a Federal Nature Preserve), hundreds of toxic chemicals are exhausted into the air, onto the land and into the water. The noise and physical pollutants, including visible black soot which can be seen on trees and patio furniture, degrade our beautiful Newport Beach flight by flight.

We must continue to persevere. The future of our personal health, our city, our children and our wildlife rely on it.

JULIE CARR lives in Newport Beach.

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