George Pfromm II

Two years ago, Eric Meyer, a resident of Northeast Portland's Roseway neighborhood, noticed an unwelcome change in the morning skies above his home near Alameda Ridge. The dull roar rattling his house and jarring his peace of mind wasn't thunder, but the irritating drone of low-flying box hauler planes.

"I just sit there and my blood just boils as they go one after another," Meyer said.

Concerned about house-shaking noise and potential health hazards, members from communities around PDX Airport banded together last April to form Airport Issues Roundtable (AIR). Their objective: to voice their annoyance with noise from PDX and, ultimately, to stop plans for airport expansion. But fighting governmental agencies has proven more difficult than they thought.

The Port of Portland, responsible for facilitating transportation in and out of the region, initially paid little attention to individuals' noise complaints, according to AIR members. It took help from City Commissioner Dan Saltzman to finally strong-arm the Port into attending AIR meetings.

Even so, that gesture seems more a begrudging formality than actual concern. In spite of AIR's ongoing fights to quiet the skies, the Port is moving in the complete opposite direction, pushing ahead with plans for an additional runway at PDX. So far such ineffectiveness to make the Port reconsider their protocol and plans has marginalized AIR as more of a support than advocacy group.

Katy Brooks, public affairs manager for the Port, says she sympathizes with AIR members, but points out that noise is the result of a global economy and lifestyle choice. "We need stuff," she said. "And stuff is going by air more and more and we're going by air more and more. It's at ends with people who live under the flight path," she says.

Even so, AIR members point out that it is not just the annoyance of being shaken from bed each morning. They believe that the additional noise from planes is grating on their physical and mental health, as well as their neighbors around them--even if they have yet to recognize it.

Medical studies suggest there are very real side effects associated with living directly under an airplane's flight path. For the past three years, Dr. Darien Fenn, a clinical psychologist, has been studying the physiological effects of noise. He currently serves as an advisor to the city's Noise Task Force. Fenn's research has uncovered a lengthy list of physical effects related to long-term noise exposure related to living near airports.

"Stress-related illnesses go up," he says. "Blood pressure goes up. Heart rate and rhythm change." One study that Fenn cited shows women living near airports have a greater percentage of low birth weight babies. Fatigue, lack of concentration and poor work performance are also side effects related to living near noisy airports like PDX, according to Fenn.

For more immediate relief, AIR chairman John Weigant proposes that current landing fees, which are based on aircraft weight, be amended to include noise. He believes that targeting noisy planes with additional fees would lead older, louder planes to be replaced with quieter aircraft. So far, however, the Port has gone forward with plans to double the capacity of PDX for planes over the next 20 years.