- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

TINICUM, Pa. (AP) - There are times during the day when you can walk around the Lester section of Tinicum Township and almost forget that it sits next to the 10th busiest airport in North America.

Sure, there are occasional reminders like finding a sticky oily substance on your vehicle that residents suspect is jet fuel residue, or the rumble of a jet landing or taking off, but it’s more background noise rather than something that interrupts a person’s day.

However, it’s much different during the traditional morning and afternoon rush hours. What happens on area roadways from about 6 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. each day also happens near the same time in the airways above the Philadelphia International Airport.

That’s when the rumblings are much more frequent and on some occasions, much closer to the ground. Residents in the Lester section are making some loud rumblings, too, after hearing about the latest version of the airport’s Capacity Enhancement Program (CEP). That program will include adding a new runway, part of which will go into a section of the Delaware River and come closer to Tinicum, while relocating the current UPS facility and Cargo City area.

It was thought that about 300 residents in Lester would have to relocate, under the airport’s initial expansion plans. However, after many revisions, the homes were saved. But now, for several reasons, residents are wondering if that’s really a good thing.

“When they first came up with this plan, the airport people came and appraised my house at $215,000,” said Pete Perkins, who lives on Manhattan Street in Tinicum, and just a stone’s throw from where the expansion will take place. “Now what’s it going to be worth, $100,000? I look at this as a loss. It’s all going down the tubes.”

What will be going up at the end of Manhattan and Iroquois streets in Tinicum will be a sound wall. But residents there don’t see that providing much of a solution. For one, the noise from the planes comes from above. Also, that end of the town is where a wetlands area sits, and it does help keep the water level down in the neighborhood.

But Rick Powley, who lives at the end of Manhattan and Iroquois, wonders if the water levels will rise when the wall goes up.

“I have never had water problems,” Powley said. “But when they start tearing up the soil, who knows what will happen with the water level.”

Residents understand there will be some noise simply because they live close to an airport. However, the increase in recent years, especially with planes flying directly over houses, has easily exceeded expectations.

“The only thing they are doing for us, really, is down at the end of the street,” said Al Troxel, who also lives on Manhattan Street, referring to the sound wall that could go up as early as this summer. “But you know what that’s going to do for me? Nothing. A wall on the ground is not going to do anything with the noise coming from above us. How is that going to knock the noise down?”

Powley, Perkins, Troxel and others said some planes come in so low they can see the faces of individual passengers.

“If their window is up, you can actually see the colors of their ties,” Powley said.

Some people will say that’s part of living so close to an airport. But Troxel says it wasn’t always this way.

“This is not what we get for living here,” he said. “It’s not our fault they got too big for their britches. That airport is making so much money they can’t count it all.”

The airport did invest some money in new windows, doors and central air conditioning units for the residents in Tinicum a few years ago. And while most admit that has helped some with the noise issue, it’s far from a cure-all.

Manhattan Street resident Margaret Bilbrough said she can’t tell a difference in the noise from before or after the new items were installed in her house. Powley said that decibel readings were taken in houses to determine if the new items were needed or not. He also said residents were told that decibel readings would be taken after the new items were in place, but that new readings were never taken in his house.

The discontent of these and other residents is shared by some of the airport’s big business partners, who are questioning why the airport needs to expand.

One of those businesses is the United Parcel Service, which has a major hub at the airport and likes the way its operation is set up now. The UPS site at the airport employs 3,100 people and has about 40 flights per day.

However, part of the new expansion plan would mean relocating the UPS hub because the new runway would be placed in the middle of the current UPS location. That’s something the international carrier is not excited about.

“We would prefer to stay at our existing site, which is well-configured for our operation, allows for future expansion, and poses fewer noise issues to airport neighbors,” said UPS spokesman Mike Mangeot. “UPS is very concerned about the impact to our operating costs at Philadelphia International Airport if the city moves forward with the new runway.

“The landing fees will increase significantly based on the airport’s proposed plan. However, we will see no benefit. UPS operates primarily during off-peak hours (at night) when there’s little competition for runway capacity.”

While UPS is not in the passenger business, at least some airlines share its view. Along with weather, the other primary reason for delays at the airport is congested air traffic due to the city’s close proximity to places such as New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Runway availability doesn’t seem to be an issue, according to Southwest and American airlines spokespeople.

“The goal for Southwest Airlines is to keep Philadelphia International Airport affordable so we can maintain our service of 34 nonstops to 12 cities a day,” said Southwest spokesman Thais Conway. “We remain concerned about the cost of the Capacity Enhancement Program (CEP) and continue to question whether a new runway is needed now or in the future. We’ll continue working with other carriers at Philadelphia International Airport on this issue.”

American Airlines released a similar statement earlier this week.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a new flight pattern plan for the northeast region is the midst of being implemented. But it’s still unclear just how much that will help with flight delays. The FAA still must also approve the new expansion plan.

“All they are really doing is building a wider and longer ramp on to bumper-to-bumper traffic,” said Dave McCann, one of the leaders of Residents Against Airport Expansion in Delco (RAAED). “They are not going to be lessening the delays.”

A good part of the deal for the township is it will be receiving an infusion of cash. The township’s tax base will remain secure, meaning there will be no increase in property taxes. The township will receive $1 million per year for 20 years or until the CEP is completed. Residents say they understand that the township’s board of commissioners was in a difficult position, with the expansion coming whether they wanted it or not.

Also, the 8.6 acres identified for construction of a new runway will be purchased immediately for $5 million. It was also agreed that the Tinicum Elementary School would receive significant repairs in the near future and that there would be long-term payments to the Interboro School District.

And as Perkins points out, he and other residents in the Lester section of the town are in this for the long-term, too, whether they want to be or not.

“We couldn’t sell in the last five years because we were waiting to see what was going happen,” Perkins said. “I want out now. But I’m stuck here.”

Kind of like that oily substance residents find on their cars.

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Online: http://bit.ly/RzBIg9

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Information from: Delaware County Daily Times, http://www.delcotimes.com

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