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Colorado appeals court affirms multi-million judgment against DIA for noise violations in Adams County

Denver International Airport still owes Adams County, and several cities within the county, $33.5 million for noise violations that impacted nearby neighborhoods, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday.

The appellate court concluded that “we discern no error” in a Jefferson County District Court judge’s determination in June 2020 that DIA didn’t properly monitor noise emanating from aircraft during a three-year period starting in 2014 — violating an intergovernmental agreement it had with the county that goes back to when the airport was built more than 30 years ago.

Adams County, along with Thornton, Aurora and Brighton, sued the airport in 2018 over the noise issue, which impacted long-established neighborhoods west and south of the airport. The case went to trial in Jefferson County in the fall of 2019.

The county accused DIA of relying on an arcane and outdated noise modeling system — rather than actual ground measurements — to gauge airport noise. Jefferson County District Court Judge Christie Bachmeyer ruled that DIA’s methodology wasn’t in keeping with the agreement the airport had made with surrounding communities.

“Since Denver has not remedied the violations as required by the agreement, Denver must now make a $500,000 payment for each of the 67 … violations over the three-year period from 2014 through 2016 in the total amount of $33,500,000,” the judge wrote in her June 2020 order.

A spokeswoman for DIA said airport officials are still reviewing Thursday’s decision from the appeals court and do not yet know if the airport will challenge it in the Colorado Supreme Court.

Adams County officials did not immediately issue a comment on the matter.

Noise impacts from DIA have been the subject of numerous legal challenges against the airport. Adams County has argued that Denver agreed to measure and minimize aircraft noise as part of its 1980s annexation of land in the county to build the 53-square-mile facility.

DIA has countered in court that it had already given Adams County and its cities $40 million in excessive noise payments, dating from the airport’s February 1995 opening through 2011. Those payments, DIA said in a filing it submitted to the court in 2019, were based on the airport’s same noise modeling system that was at issue in the latest trial.

Adams County and its cities were fully aware of the system the airport was using during the years they were collecting millions in noise levies, DIA asserted. Airport officials alleged that as aviation technology has advanced and planes have become quieter, the municipalities feared that money would dry up — precipitating the 2018 litigation.

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