Bayside residents rattled by noisy jets
By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- The Dillards' front garden is a lush, quiet oasis. Miniature oranges hang from the limbs of a tree and the heavy scent of their gardenia bush is so fragrant it stops visitors coming up the front walk.
The loudest thing at their house is the screaming red peppers on the plant by the front door.
Except for noise from jet aircraft.
"When the wind is right, they come right between our house and the one next door is what it sounds like," said Walter Dillard.
"In the middle of the night, that's when it's the worst," Marie Dillard said.
The Dillards live in Del Oro Groves Estates, a Clearwater neighborhood sandwiched between Safety Harbor and the west end of the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
In Del Oro, the lawns are manicured, the oaks soar and a jacaranda tree has dropped a carpet of lavender petals all over one yard. There's just one flaw: it lies directly north of the longest runway at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport.
"I can be in my swimming pool and almost see the passengers" when a plane flies overhead, said Lucile Casey, president of the Del Oro Groves Estates Homeowners Association.
Airplane noise has been a problem in Del Oro and Safety Harbor for years. But the airport's plans to extend its north-south runway has focused more attention on the issue. The airport will hold a meeting at McMullen-Booth Elementary School on May 15 for residents to discuss their concerns.
"We're committed to look for ways of reducing it (noise)," said Tom Jewsbury, the airport's operations director.
Jewsbury and other airport officials ask pilots to take a route farther east, over Old Tampa Bay, whenever possible. And they said that no Pinellas residential areas suffer from noise levels high enough to be considered problematic by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The airport has two other runways and several routes in and out. It sometimes gets complaints from Feather Sound and Oldsmar about noise as well.
But residents in Del Oro and Safety Harbor complain the most. Those residents are victims of geography. The noisiest planes are the largest ones, which use the longer north-south runway.
At night and in bad weather they can't take the eastern approach, which requires them to bank toward the airport. Instead, they use a radio beacon in Safety Harbor to help them follow a straight line into the runway.
Jewsbury said the airport's commercial carriers are vigilant about asking their pilots to fly over the bay whenever possible. The airport even questions those pilots when they use the Safety Harbor route, he said.
The airport asks pilots for the smaller corporate planes to follow the same route. But the bay route adds to their flight time and not enough pilots use the route, Jewsbury said.
Residents say planes habitually take the straight path. Casey said she often sees them in the middle of a sunny day.
"Planes still come right over Safety Harbor and are not coming over the water," said Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino.
And residents are always telling City Commissioner Neil Brickfield about how the planes wake them up as early as 4:30 a.m.
"They use it as an alarm clock," he said.
Corbino said she's afraid the runway extension will increase noisy air traffic. Oldsmar officials, who are bothered by planes on the eastern route, oppose the extension as well.
But David Metz, airport director, estimated that the extension would only bring the airport an average of one more flight each day.
County Commissioner Karen Seel has met with residents, and officials from the airport and FAA. She said that flight routes from Tampa International Airport, just a few miles east, gives the smaller St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport fewer choices.
"TIA is the big banana," she said.
But in Del Oro, the Dillards say the planes are the only thing that disturb their calm. There are no loud cars, no loud music. Even the children are quiet, they said.
It's just the planes that fly by, drowning out TV and telephone conversations and making the Dillards' kitchen window rattle.
"Why can't they fly over the bay?" Walter Dillard asked. "I don't think that hurts anybody."
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