From the Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1998
Not for reprinting without permission of the Times

El Toro Foes Find Allies Fighting Worldwide

By LORENZA MUNOZ, Times Staff Writer

Anti-airport forces in South Orange County, employing the wonders of the World Wide Web, have tapped into a community of like-minded people around the globe who are fighting their own airport battles in places like the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.

Thanks to point-and-click technology and high-speed modems, airport foes here say they are culling valuable lessons from the ranks of those at the fronts of airport wars being waged on continents far from home.

One thing those who oppose an airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station say they have learned from the vast network of naysayers: Once an airport is built there will be no way to stop its growth or to control the pollution aircraft will spew.

They've also learned that some of their brethren have resorted to extreme measures. In the last three years, residents of Sydney, Australia, tied themselves down on runways planned for expansion. Activists in Manchester, England, tunneled under proposed runways to disrupt construction. A Japanese group launched homemade rockets against Narita Airport before the Winter Olympics began. Most activists, though, have used less drastic tactics.

"This is about communities looking at each other and seeing how they are solving the problems," said Hanna Hill, a Web site volunteer for the Project 99 anti-El Toro airport group. "This is the kind of information that makes people take a stand, and the way we spread it is immediate."

South County airport opponents have, for instance, collected recent studies on the health effects of noise and air pollution, though they are mindful that data gleaned from the "information superhighway" can sometimes be of dubious nature. They also say they have garnered valuable information on the slide in property values near Seattle's airport.

What they've mostly learned is that around the globe, environmental and civic activists just like them are standing up to airport authorities, government officials and the airline industry. They are demanding an end to new construction and to noise and pollution wrought by increased air traffic.

But whether here or abroad, the airline industry says it is simply responding to worldwide annual passenger demand that is estimated to double in the next 20 years from 1 billion passengers to more than 2 billion.

"The problem is that there is a pervasive perception by the community that [the idea] is, 'Build it and they will come,' but that is not the case," said Neil Bennett of the industry trade group Air Transport Assn. "We are trying to respond to the demand, and the airports are responding to the need."

In the United States, in particular, federal regulators haven't pushed for stricter pollution regulations at airports, in part because federal laws make the rules difficult to enforce.

Nevertheless, groups opposed to airport expansions use the Internet to share ideas and strategies and spread the gospel of their movement. They hope to reach everyone who could suffer what they say are the ill effects of airport expansion.

"Around the world, we are saying enough is enough," said Jack Saporito, co-founder of U.S. Citizens Aviation Watch, a Chicago group with about 1 million members nationwide.

So immersed are South County activists in anti-airport efforts that they are waking up to find distraught messages on their Web sites from new protest groups that crop up around the world.

"HELP! Coolangatta Airport, Queensland, Australia, has just privatized, new owners threaten to go full international . . . any help received with thanks," wrote Australian Jim Boydle to El Toro Web site co-founder Leonard Kranser this week.

Kranser said he typically sends other groups information on what the various anti-El Toro airport groups are doing.

As important as the Internet has become as a tool for finding help, it also has created unity among groups fighting local, regional and national authorities, such as the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We are all working together for the same goals," said Seattle resident Debi Wagner, co-founder of Citizens Aviation Watch. "We don't want the problems to be moved on to somebody else's neighborhood."

Most local groups are funded by area residents who contribute enough money to finance newsletters, mount public relations campaigns and hire lawyers to take their cause to court--often their only resort.

In the United States, groups in Orange County, Seattle, Chicago and Baltimore have sued their respective airport authorities to stop expansion and construction plans.

In England, those opposed to Heathrow Airport expansion plans have taken their complaints about noise to the European Court of Human Rights.

"It is very difficult to fight it because big business has all the lobbying power," said Philippa Edmunds of the London-based Heathrow Assn. for the Control of Aircraft Noise. "Money is the great god, and they always play the job card."

One of the biggest concerns of airport foes everywhere is determining what the constant aircraft traffic--the jet noise and the pollution from fuel and de-icing operations--does to their health.

Starting three years ago, for instance, an unusual number of Seattle residents living near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport developed leukemia, brain cancer and severe allergies. In one family, both parents and a child developed brain tumors.

Residents are angry about SeaTac airport plans to build a third runway that will increase passenger service from about 22.8 million a year to 31.4 million by 2004.

"When I would walk from the buildings between the school I would hate to take a breath because the kerosene fumes were so strong," said Audrey Richter, a retired teacher from a school about a mile from the airport. She was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor.

Officials from the Washington Department of Health acknowledged that the number of cancer cases in one specific area near the airport were "higher than expected," according to a May letter from the department's epidemiology director. But they could not conclude that the cancer was caused by airport pollution.

One agency official asked the state to conduct an in-depth study to pin down the cause. But so far, the study hasn't been funded.

Typically, protest groups face daunting political battles and, in some cases, hardball tactics. In Sydney, several activists who protested the construction of a third runway two years ago recently found out they were under surveillance by a special police task force dedicated to tracking terrorist groups, according to newspaper reports.

"Residents are upset because the airlines and the government are trying to run roughshod around them," said Sydney resident Janette Barros, chair of the Leichhardt Airport & Urban Environment Research Group.

Last month, government officials set up a commission to study the police surveillance issue, according to newspaper accounts.

In Chicago, a protest group sued the city to obtain access to O'Hare International Airport expansion plans. The case is pending before the state Supreme Court. The Suburban O'Hare Commission, a consortium of local residential groups opposed to the expansion, has enlisted the help of local congressmen--Republican Henry J. Hyde and Democrat Jesse L. Jackson Jr.--in their struggle.

Last fall, the congressmen released a report accusing the airlines--especially United and American, which have hubs at the airport--of opposing a new airport because it would cut into their profits. The Hyde-Jackson report went so far as to compare the airline's "fortress hub" business practices to the 19th century excesses of the railroad barons.

It stated that "the airline industry has copied to a fare-thee-well many of the same pricing and monopoly abuses for which the railroads were infamous. . . . A new airport means an end to the monopoly business fare gravy train that Fortress O'Hare has provided United and American."

The Air Transport Assn., an airline trade group, called the comparison unfair and said the industry operates completely within FAA standards.

Expansion of O'Hare has become an election issue in Chicago politics, just as the El Toro airport proposal is a major issue in Orange County. El Toro airport foes are closely monitoring the developments in Chicago and beyond.

"We have looked at the successes and the methodologies of the others," said Bill Koggerman, head of Taxpayers for Responsible Planning. "It's a much bigger and broader campaign than I ever dreamed I'd be involved in."


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