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Residents sue Colorado airport

A lawsuit organized by disgruntled homeowners who live near Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Colorado pits neighbors against the national aviation system and their local airport.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

On December 21, a group of 406 homeowners in the Rock Creek neighborhood of Superior, Colorado, filed a lawsuit against Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and its sponsor, Jefferson County—claiming they are owed damages due to increased exposure to leaded fuel, decreased home values, and airport operations that violate avigation easement agreements. An avigation easement is an agreement protecting airspace above properties near an airport. It is a written agreement that typically prevents structures or uses that would interfere with flight safety and includes an acknowledgement by a property owner that among other things, proximity to an airport may expose their property to noise, vibrations, and emissions during normal flight operations.

The yearslong fight between residents and airport users boils down to flight operations at and around an airport—which has been in operation and had warned against encroaching development since the 1960s—versus the interests of residents who bought property close to the airport. Rocky Mountain Metro is one of the busiest airports in Colorado, and as developments near the airport have increased over the decades, air traffic has understandably also increased. Despite efforts to collaboratively address the residents’ gripes concerning emissions and noise, including the formation of the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport Community Noise Roundtable, locals are still not satisfied with the volume of operations in and out of the airport. Escalation of the issue has ranged from harassment of pilots to formal legal battles.

The December lawsuit against the airport was filed after a June 15, 2023, ruling by the Boulder County District Court striking down certain avigation easements. Jefferson County, which owns and operates the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, had entered into 29 of these avigation easements with property owners over a span of five years in the 1990s.

In 2020, the Rock Creek Homeowners Association sued Jefferson County, with the intention of eliminating all 29 easements—claiming noise levels exceeded the terms of the easement. The judge ruled that nine of the 29 easements would be vacated. The properties of all 406 named plaintiffs of the December 21 lawsuit fall within the boundaries of the nine vacated easements.

Despite these avigation easements being vacated, neither the homeowners nor the airport has the right to control who flies into and out of the airport, their flight paths, or aircraft emissions. Congress granted the FAA exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the areas including airspace use, management and efficiency, air traffic control, aviation safety, navigational facilities, and aircraft noise at its source. Congress granted the Environmental Protection Agency the exclusive jurisdiction to regulate aircraft emissions, in consultation with the FAA. The airport also has legal obligations, including non-discrimination against airport users, as a result of federal grant funding it has accepted.

While the outcome of the lawsuit can’t change flight paths, noise, or engine emissions, it could result in financial burdens for Jefferson County, if successful, and encourage people who live near an airport to file lawsuits to divert money that could be used to support our national aviation system into their own pockets. This is why AOPA will continue to take all actions appropriate to protect and defend members, airports, and the freedom to fly.

Lillian Geil
Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Airport

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