Superhighways in the Sky 

The FAA is burdening Bay Area communities and wildlife habitats with aerial freeways for jet planes. And even the National Park Service can't stop the noise.

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In Palo Alto and Santa Cruz, neighborhood activists and elected officials have argued that the FAA should use the NextGen technology to "fan out" flight routes, meaning dividing the single aerial freeway into multiple roads. "Our requests are modest, but they could have a big impact on our community," said Leopold, the Santa Cruz County supervisor.

James Lyons, a Woodside resident and one of the plaintiffs challenging FAA's NorCal project in the federal petition filed by the Woodside-Portola Valley group, said that more thorough environmental scrutiny would clearly force the FAA to develop a less harmful system. "It's like building an extension of Interstate 80 outside your bedroom," he said. "I would anticipate if they did an honest analysis, it would show that it imposes a dramatic impact on the area living near the superhighway."

Sometimes, minor shifts can make a big difference. Fristrup, the NPS senior scientist, noted that when the FAA in Colorado rerouted flights away from a wilderness section of Rocky Mountain National Park and over a vehicle road, the restoration of natural silence in certain areas was profound.

Leopold said he hopes that the FAA partners with local elected officials and community groups to provide some relief soon. If not, he said, officials in Santa Cruz could consider litigation — like the City of Phoenix has filed against the FAA over the implementation of NextGen in Arizona. After all, for some of Leopold's constituents, the need is urgent. For example, in a two-mile aerial zone above Happy Valley (an unincorporated area of the county just outside the city of Santa Cruz), data on arrivals to SFO shows that while residents experienced 114 flights overhead from March 5 to April 12 of 2014, during that same time period this year — after the local implementation of NextGen — the same area heard 5,588 jets overhead.

That is, Leopold said, a significant impact.

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