Monday, March 24, 2008

Len the moaner

Tampa International Airport has a serious problem. Complaints about noise from planes heading to the airport more than quadrupled last year, reaching a record 1,278 — an average of almost five per day. That's up from 256 complaints in 2006 and 179 in 2005. What happened? Has air traffic increased so drastically over the skies of Tampa Bay that it's disrupting homeowners like never before?

Or is it just Lenox Stevens? Stevens is a single guy with no kids, he cares for his ailing 80-year-old father in their modest ranch home south of Gandy Boulevard, not far from the bridge and Tampa Bay.

And for the past year and a half, Stevens said, they have feared for their safety, while listening to the constant roar of planes flying overhead. They shouldn't be here, he said. He is determined to document each and every one.

Feb. 7, 2007, was a typical day: Stevens woke up about 7 a.m. and logged his first, a small jet. Nineteen more made the list until he got tired around 10:10 p.m.

"You can see big gaps in there where I went to the store and stuff," Stevens said.

Of 1,278 noise complaints last year, 1,060 — 83 percent — came from Stevens.

Commercial planes should be rare where Stevens lives. Many come from the Northeast and are supposed to fly over water, south over Hillsborough Bay, curving west around MacDill Air Force Base and heading north over Tampa Bay to make their descent at the airport.

Instead, Stevens said, they take shortcuts across South Tampa, which they're only supposed to do in dangerous conditions. Others have noticed an increase in the planes, but Stevens is the only one doing anything about it.

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