Viewpoint: Noise management at the Island airport is a waiting game

By Joan Prowse –

Saturday morning. 8 a.m. I wake up to an airplane revving its engines not once, not twice but three times before taking off. Sunday night, I’m drifting off to sleep as a plane lands and guns its engines in reverse thrust after the 11 p.m. airport curfew. In both cases I am jolted awake, setting into motion a disturbing sleep pattern that could ultimately damage my health, and the health of thousands of residents living within earshot of the Toronto City Centre Airport.

I have to ask—is this any way to begin and end a weekend? And what can be done to reduce the growing annoyance caused by these flights into and out of Toronto’s Island airport?

In place is a legally binding document, the Tripartite agreement, meant to protect Downtown neighbourhoods from the excessive noise generated by this airport. This agreement between the federal government, the city and the Toronto Port Authority (TPA)—the arms’ length federal agency that runs the airport—requires compliance with the noise limits it sets out. Until now, the parties to the agreement have been very slow to act on their obligation.

I’m learning that while patience is a virtue, perseverance nets results.

In November 2008, after two years of effort, representatives from community associations along the waterfront and local city councillors were invited to participate in a noise advisory committee convened by the TPA. Our first meeting, which was well attended by city representatives, airport staff and TPA board members, was held on November 25, 2008.

With my usual optimism, I went to the meeting as the appointed rep of the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Association. I learned that the TPA had retained Jacobs Consulting to conduct a noise management study for the airport. Hurray! Progress was being made, or so I thought.

Since then, there have been two subsequent meetings of the advisory committee. The latest one held on July 14, 2009, to hear the interim report of the noise study. The agenda of the meeting was for the noise consultants to present their interim findings to neighbourhood stakeholders, like me, and to councillors Pam McConnell and Adam Vaughn. Also present were TPA directors Jeremy Adams (who is responsible for community outreach) and David Gurin, the recent city appointee to the TPA’s board.

Unfortunately, very little of the actual study results were presented because community representatives raised a number of concerns about the way in which information was presented to us. For example, the interim report’s recommendations were distributed for comment without adequate time to digest their contents. In this case, although the meeting had originally been scheduled for June 10 and the interim results cited in a report on a pedestrian tunnel released by the TPA on June 2, they were only delivered to the community reps and councillors at 4 p.m. on July 13, the day before the meeting.

As a result, I’m not able to report on the study’s interim recommendations until after the next scheduled meeting of the noise advisory group in late September. However, members of the committee will be meeting with their neighbourhood associations over the summer to share results and gain feedback. A full public meeting to present the study’s findings and recommendations, prior to publication, will follow the group’s September meeting.

There are many avenues to keep informed and take action to reduce noise generated by planes at the Island airport. For more information, contact your local city councillor or the airport watchdog group CommunityAir.

You can more directly express your concerns to the three partners in the tripartite agreement—Mayor David Miller, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Toronto Port Authority—through its outreach committee chair Jeremy Adams or to airport director Ken Lundy. The process is long and winding, but opening lines of communication between the  airport, the TPA and the community is a positive  step that should be applauded and supported—and always kept accountable.