In the latest salvo in the battle between Howard County and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the county’s solicitor is challenging the airport’s draft environmental assessment, published ahead of planned renovations, as “legally insufficient” and is calling for a full environmental impact study.
The comments, submitted last month, were on behalf of County Executive Allan Kittleman and the County Council, which has been critical of noise from jets taking off and landing following a change in flight patterns almost four years ago.
In responding, the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns and operates BWI, told the Federal Aviation Administration that it would make no changes to its renovation plans.
The decision over what to do next now falls to the FAA. The federal agency will decide whether to approve of the airport’s environmental assessment and allow an expansion project to move forward or to require further study of the project’s environmental impact.
Senior Assistant County Solicitor Lewis Taylor, who crafted the county’s comments with County Solicitor Gary Kuc, said there is no set timeline for an FAA decision.
The airport, which in 2017 reported a record-breaking 26 million passengers, completed the draft environmental assessment as part of its process to complete a host of construction projects planned through 2020, including concourse expansions, a new sky bridge and relocating taxiways.
If the FAA approves the MAA’s plans, Taylor said one of the county’s next options would be to challenge the federal agency’s decision in federal court under the Federal Administration Procedure Act.
Much of the county’s issue with the draft environmental assessment rests on the notion that the MAA relied on “non-representative and outdated data,” with the vast majority of its noise data coming from before 2015.
The MAA denies the claim, stating that aircraft operations were based on 2016 data and that runway utilization was calculated based on 2015 and 2016 data.
The county’s comments also state that the MAA’s proposed plans will significantly increase the amount of noise produced by the airport, an argument the agency also refutes.
The MAA states in its March 15 response that the expansion is needed to meet FAA design standards, accommodate existing and anticipated demand, improve customer service and provide National Environmental Policy Act review of previously bought land. The airport does not foresee an increase in flight numbers as a result of the improvements.
Maryland and Howard County officials, as well as residents near the airport, have been complaining about noise and since 2014, when the airport implemented NextGen, a GPS-based flight routing system designed to increase air travel safety and efficiency. As a result of the changes in flight patterns, residents as far as 10 miles from the airport have complained of drastic upticks in airplane noise over their properties.
Gov. Larry Hogan asked Attorney General Brian Frosh in September to sue the FAA over the change in flight patterns, a move welcomed by Kittleman.
“We want the MAA to go back and do real noise studies that reflect what the real current situation is and then make their analysis based on that,” Taylor said. “We believe if they do that, they’re going to find that there are impacts that have not been addressed.”
Update: This story has been updated to clarify that if the county decides to challenge a decision in federal court, a claim would be filed against the FAA and not MAA.