A state transportation review board agreed yesterday to hear an appeal from a BWI watchdog group that claims the airport enlarged the "noise zone" to pave the way for expansion.
The hearing could end more than three years of litigation between the Airport Coordinating Team and the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns and operates Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
In making its decision, the seven-member board appointed by the governor also agreed to consider whether ACT has legal standing to bring a case against the airport.
ACT filed a motion last week, saying the issue of standing had already been decided by two circuit courtjudges and that the state, by raising the issue, was merely trying to stall.
"MAA has exhausted every avenue of delay in this case," attorney G. Macy Nelson said in the motion. "It has pursued its arguments in a piecemeal fashion and drawn this relatively straightforward request for reviews into over three years of protracted litigation. .. . MAA should not be permitted to continue on its misguided course."
Assistant Attorney General Charles M. Bell said the review boardagreed to consider the issue of standing at the same time it hears the case on the merits. The hearing has been scheduled for either lateApril or early May and will be open to the public.
Bell said the circuit court has never ruled on the issue of standing, but instead chose not to address it because the transportation review board had never taken it up. "The issue of standing is still a viable issue," he said.
ACT won its chance for the hearing last September, when the state -- without saying why -- dropped its appeal of a ruling issued in 1990 by Circuit Judge Warren Duckett, ordering the transportation review board to hear the case.
The noise zone designates areas with an average daily noise level of at least 65 decibels, about the level of a downtown commercial street.
Residential developments are prohibited within the zone without special permits, and people living within its boundaries are eligible for state grants to buy their homes or help locate a buyer.
ACT insists the MAA extended the noise zone in 1988 only to pave the way for airport expansion. The group says the zone approved by the state four years ago was drastically different from what had been unveiled at a public hearing just a few months earlier.
The state argued that the noise zone was an "internal management tool" not subject to appeal by the review board.
Duckettdisagreed and ordered the review board to hear the case. "The noise zone certification goes far beyond such internal use," he said in hisSeptember 1990 ruling.
The MAA appealed Duckett's ruling to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but then with drew it last September, less than a week before the hearing had been scheduled.
Bell denied charges by Dennis Stevens, the president of ACT, who said in an interview that the state is "impeding the process of justice" by bringing up the issue of standing.
In his motion filed before the review board, Nelson, ACT's lawyer, included a passage from a July 1990 circuit court hearing, quoting Bell as telling the court that standingis not an issue.
Bell said the passage was taken out of context. "The transportation board said the state had been substantiality justified in all the actions it has taken up to this point," he said.