Airport complaint calls take persistence

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Jim Hartung says he wants to hear citizens’ complaints about excessive noise at Toledo Express Airport.

He promises a “receptive ear” to the concerns of the airport’s neighbors, and asks them to “call us anytime.”

All you have to do, says the president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, is dial 243-8251.

And let it ring five times.

And listen to 88 words of instructions.

And press Star.

And press 2.

And listen to more instructions.

And spell out the first four letters of “Hartung” – 4278.

And listen to more instructions.

And listen to a message from Mr. Hartung.

And then, after 134 seconds of punching numbers and listening attentively to disembodied voices – well, then you can speak your mind.

To a machine.

For more than three-quarters of every week, the only “receptive ear” you’ll get on the line at the port authority is electronic.

And Mr. Hartung – who pledged “an open door” to complaints in an advertisement in Thursday’s Blade – says that’s acceptable to him.

“The ‘call anytime’ is more of a symbolic opening to our receptiveness, our availability, our desire to listen,” he said yesterday. “It doesn’t mean that there’s someone sitting by the phone 24 hours a day.”

The ad, in the form of “An Open Letter to Area Residents,” ran in the Neighbors West and Neighbors South sections of The Blade, which are distributed to subscribers and newsracks near the airport.

It acknowledged the complaints families near the airport have about the jet noise they hear every morning before dawn.

“Noise is an unwelcome but inevitable by-product of a thriving airport,” the letter read.

A group of airport neighbors has filed a lawsuit against the port authority, saying the agency never held public hearings required by state law before making the airport a hub for Burlington Air Express, an air cargo company.

Ohio law states clearly that port authorities must hold public hearings before adopting or changing the master plans of its facilities, including airports. And local port authority officials concede they have not held such public hearings.

The residents living near Toledo Express argue that predawn flights from Burlington – recently renamed BAX Global, Inc. – are the major producer of noise pollution at the airport and have lowered the values of their properties.

While the lawsuit proceeds through the court system, a concerned citizen trying to reach Mr. Hartung with a complaint can do so by spelling out the first four letters of the port president’s last name on the voice mail system.

But typing P-O-U-R to reach Port Authority board chairman Jim Poure will only get you an error message. That’s because Mr. Poure doesn’t have a voice mailbox on the system, even though he also signed the “open letter” published in The Blade.

Punching in V-A-N-L in an attempt to reach airport director Mark VanLoh leads to the same error message.

Mr. Hartung said neither Mr. VanLoh nor Mr. Poure has offices in the Port Authority’s downtown headquarters, where the voice mail system for the listed phone number is located.

And if a resident had an immediate concern and tried to reach a port authority official at home, he might run into trouble. Both Mr. Hartung and Mr. VanLoh have unlisted phone numbers, as do 4 of the 13 board members.

The port authority would be willing to examine the possibility of hiring an answering service to replace or add onto the voice mail system.

“We’ve never said no to anything without giving it due deliberation,” he said. “We’d need to weigh all of our options.”

Mr. Hartung said he encouraged anyone to leave a message in his personal voice mailbox outside normal working hours. But as of last night, the Port Authority had not received any calls, day or night, about the issues raised by the ad since its publication.