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The unfriendly skies.

Last spring, a handful of grassroots community and environmental groups sent delegations to Minneapolis for a conference opposing the ongoing expansion of airports. The activists, who are talking about forming a national organization, argue that airports increase noise, air and water pollution, kill birds and fish, and create such a dill that residents of nearby communities are often forced to relocate.

"We believe in a balance between public health and the economy," says lack Saporito, executive director of the 1,200-member Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare in Chicago. "Years ago they wouldn't even listen to us," adds Debi DesMarias, president of the 1,300-member Citizens Against Sea-Tac Expansion, which has led a vigorous campaign opposing the growth of Seattle's airport. "Now they treat us with more respect."

There are an estimated 600 such groups in the U.S. working to curtail the growth of everything from small regional airports to sprawling international facilities. Activists abroad are even more aggressive: Protesters in Manchester, England last year occupied tree houses in the forest around the city's airport to physically block bulldozers. Similar efforts have also been organized in Australia and France.

Juliet Wright, a spokesperson for the Maryland Aviation Administration, says the protesters are misinformed. "These are real issues which we believe can be exaggerated at times," she says.

Tempers are certainly on the boil in San Francisco, where a planned airport expansion into the city's legendary bay has created controversy in the environmental community. At the center of it is Ralph Nobles, who is not only head of the county planning commission but also the president of Friends of Redwood City, a local environmental group.

Nobles is proposing that the airport buy 29,000 acres of salt ponds, build the runway and restore the rest to wetlands. By Nobles' calculations, this is a savvy trade: a half-mile loss of open water for a 95-mile gain. Nobles adds, "It's a chance to replace 80 percent of wetlands previously lost, restore the entire areas ecology, and almost certainly delist at least two endangered species, the California dapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse."

Airport officials think the idea has merit. Some environmentalists and Cargill Salt, the pond's owners, aren't so enthusiastic. A moratorium on fill in the bay has stood for 30 years, and many are unconvinced it should be lifted now, citing the danger of increased chemical runoff, habitat damage and interrupted fish migration. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the nonprofit Marine Science Institute want to consider the plan, but the strongly conservationist Save the Bay is opposed to any fill project.

For now, all factions are waiting for a mid-1998 report commissioned by the airport, and subsequent environmental studies may take years to complete. "Expansion into the bay is inevitable, but it can be mitigated," says Nobles. CONTACT: Friends of Redwood City, 3720 Country Club Drive, Redwood City, CA 94061/(650)365-0675.
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Title Annotation:expansion of airports
Author:Steligo, Kathy
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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