See more of the story

Caught off guard by plans to concentrate flights over some of its neighborhoods, Edina on Wednesday demanded and won a greater voice in shaping policies that deal with airport noise.

But the suburb might have to settle for sharing its influence with several other cities rather than the power it preferred.

A panel that advises the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) on noise issues decided to allow Edina to join six other cities in sharing an at-large seat with a single vote on the six-member panel.

Edina had something bigger in mind. It wanted its own seat, just like Minneapolis, Bloomington, Richfield, Eagan and Mendota Heights.

Yet those cities are adjacent to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and experience so much noise that many homes qualify for government-subsidized soundproofing. Edina is well outside the noisiest areas.

"The decision on what cities would sit at this table was not made capriciously," said Elizabeth Petschel, who represents Mendota Heights on the panel, called the Noise Oversight Committee. "We are the closest in. That was the criteria."

Each city with its own seat on the panel has some neighborhoods where airplane noise exceeds 65 decibels on average. In one Edina neighborhood concerned about noise, decibel levels were in the high 40s.

But that Country Club neighborhood fears that a new flight pattern proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration will concentrate many more flights over its homes. When residents learned of the proposal in November, they mounted an aggressive campaign to stop it and Edina city officials decided they needed to be better informed on airport noise issues.

Vern Wilcox of Bloomington, chairman of the panel, said giving Edina full voting rights would have opened the door to other cities.

"If we approve Edina for a full chair, guess who's coming right behind them?" he asked.

A veteran of such issues, Wilcox said a previous noise panel had so many members that it accomplished little.

The panel unanimously approved letting Edina join Burnsville, Inver Grove Heights, Sunfish Lake, St. Louis Park, St. Paul and Apple Valley in sharing the at-large seat. A final vote is expected to be taken on the decision this winter.

Edina City Manager Scott Neal told the panel that his council really wanted its own seat. "We understand ... that might not be something that is acceptable," he acknowledged.

FAA backtracking, doing more analysis

The flight pattern controversy arose from new satellite technology that allows the FAA to consolidate airplane takeoffs -- and redistribute noise in the process.

After strong reaction from some residents, the MAC in November recommended allowing the technology on some runways but not using it on runways that would have concentrated flight patterns over parts of south Minneapolis, Edina and Richfield.

In November the FAA used the technology on a runway that sends planes toward the southern suburb of Eagan. But the agency suspended that in late December.

"We were concerned about safety ... pilots and controllers being on the same page," said Elaine Buckner, air traffic manager at the Minneapolis-St. Paul control tower, told the committee.

"We just felt we couldn't continue forward without doing some more analysis."

That analysis could become part of a larger study underway by the agency on whether the partial use of the technology as recommended by the MAC would work.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504