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Grassroots efforts to curb noise from military jets at ILM successful, new agreement in place

The deafening roar of jet engines flying low over historic neighborhoods in Wilmington brought neighbors together
Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 3:42 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The neighbors in one of downtown Wilmington’s historic neighborhoods say they have been successful in reaching a compromise with local, state, and federal governments and have managed to finally gain some peace and quiet in the skies above them.

The agreement states that military aircraft are to avoid the ‘noise sensitive area’ of downtown, but there’s more than just that.

Afterburners must be terminated after passing 500-feet and carrier breaks, a low altitude maneuver that causes excess noise, is now prohibited.

Altitudes are also now set at 2,500-feet for initial approach, then dropping to 2,000, then 1,500 until turning to base. This means that jets should no longer be roaring about the rooflines of homes in Wilmington and the surrounding county, until they are actually landing.

A grassroots movement, with little support

The deafening roar of jet engines flying low over historic neighborhoods in Wilmington brought neighbors together, but it was not an easy battle.

Members of New Hanover County’s Board of Commissioners were hesitant and even outright hostile towards any efforts to curb the jet noise.

County Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman told State Representative Deb Butler, “You just helped have ILM declared persona not [sic] grata to the military,” after Butler started working to address the noise complaints.

County Commissioner Bill Rivenbark was also disapproving of Butler, telling her to worry about other things.

“Pass a budget and then get in touch with me about jets flying over historic downtown. It would be nice for the school districts to know what the NC budget was to plan for their budget. Please do your job and quit worrying about jets,” he said.

Butler was one of the only elected officials who made efforts to address the noise concerns, and scheduled meetings with the FAA as well as the Marines. From the beginning she made it clear she was never against the military using the airport, and insisted on compromise.

She says that despite those who opposed her efforts, she is grateful they worked out a solution where everybody is happy.

“It shows you what can happen when you come together in a collaborative spirit. I want to give great thanks to the Marine Aircraft Division, because honestly they were a pleasure to work with and we forged solutions,” she said.

Members of the airport’s staff as well as board members also said their hands were tied, and even said that military jets were exempt from FAA regulations when it came to height restrictions.

“They [military jets] are also exempt from FAA noise and 1000′ height regulations,” former Airport Director Julie Wilsey wrote in an email.

However, CNAF M-3710.7 (the US Navy’s guidance for pilots) states that Navy planes do have to adhere to federal height regulations and speed.

“Unless otherwise authorized or required by ATC, no person may operate an aircraft at or below 2,500 feet above the surface within 4 nautical miles of the primary airport of a Class C or Class D airspace area at an indicated airspeed of more than 200 knots (230 mph.),” according to those regulations.

‘It’s been so peaceful’

Carin Blumenthal is one of the neighbors in Wilmington who helped spearhead the movement to find a solution to the noise.

“It usually would start Thursday afternoon Friday morning with an onslaught of military F-18s flying over our neighborhood anywhere from six to nine times that would continue throughout the weekend, landing and taking off,” she said.

Now, things have changed.

“Honestly since I’ve been home in January after [the] holiday, I have not experienced that at all; it’s been so peaceful,” she said.

The issue turned political as some residents tried to paint those who complained about the jet noise as unpatriotic or anti-military, but both Butler and Blumenthal said that was never the case.

“I have upmost respect for the Marine Corps. My father was a military man and a private pilot, so I have the world’s respect for what they do,” Butler said.

For Blumenthal, she is happy that the efforts she and her neighbors undertook were not in vain.

“As community organizers we were able to buck the system and you know what, it feels damn good, to know that we have achieved — really really achieved what we needed to do,” she said.

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