Copter noise to stay at old level

District needs more time to look into impact of flightseeing before changing landings

Posted: Tuesday, January 04, 2000

Companies propose their own options

Flightseeing operators are looking to Juneau's leaders for help in finding a noise cure.

In the presentation of an action plan to the Juneau Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee on Monday, operator spokesman Bob Engelbrecht offered options for easing the problem, ranging from altered routes to seasonal moves to satellite heliports to a special loan program funded by cruise ship passenger fee revenues.

``The list is very much a brainstorm list,'' Engelbrecht said of the 14 suggested satellite sites.

Montana Creek, Lemon Creek, the downtown rock dumps, the new Auke Recreation Area cut-off and even a moveable barge were among the recommendations.

``One problem is that most of these areas don't fall into the proper zoning category,'' he said. And establishment of such a site might not come to pass until 2001.

The satellite heliport ``is, intuitively, a good response,'' said Planning Committee Chairman Tom Garrett. ``It's conceivable we could do a test of it this summer at the Auke Rec cut-off quarry,'' a smooth, flat piece of ground developed as the road was being built.

The operators' shorter-term goals include the alternation and rotation of existing routes, further identification of noise-sensitive areas and establishing voluntary low-use zones by avoiding trails and recreation cabins, Engelbrecht said.

Long-term plans include asking the city for money - in the form of incentives ``for the adoption of quiet technology by enacting a tax code that provides for tax subsidies or tax discounts for commercial aircraft that use quiet technology.''

The report also suggests the city establish low-cost loans for operators wanting to convert to quiet technology. ``This could be a revolving loan fund established with cruise ship passenger fees.''

The noise problem is challenging, Garrett said. ``And there is no silver bullet'' to solve it.

The Juneau Ranger District won't be changing the permitting of helicopter landings on Juneau's glaciers this year.

Late last month, the district concluded an environmental impact statement on the glacier landings wouldn't be ready in time for the coming summer. As a result, the district has time to do more work on the environmental study, businesses can make their plans and noise levels likely won't change from the last season.

Pete Griffin, ranger for the Juneau district, said he now expects a draft statement to be ready for public comment within three months. A final version of the document is expected by the summer.

The study will look at the impacts of current helicopter landings on the Juneau Icefield, and examine proposals to increase and reduce the number of landings allowed - currently limited to 19,000.

A revised study on the noise impacts of helicopters accessing local glaciers didn't change much from a draft offered earlier this year, he said. The district will consider several options, some increasing the number of allowed glacier landings, some decreasing the permits.

``There are several processes at work here,'' Griffin said.

As the district does its work, the city is also moving toward addressing issues related to helicopter noise. Griffin said that work will likely be incorporated into the environmental report.

Griffin said the U.S. Forest Service cannot control how many helicopters fly in Juneau's skies, just the number of times they land in the Tongass National Forest.

The sound study said if the Forest Service allows for the same number of landing permits as it did this year, helicopter noise over Juneau homes would be below a level the Federal Aviation Administration considers appropriate. That level is 65 decibels. At that volume, the FAA presumes fewer than 20 percent of the people would say they found the noise annoying. It's the equivalent of normal speech heard from 3 feet away.

If the district grants the same number of permits for the next four summer seasons as it has this year, glacier landings would be allowed from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week for the summer.

Of those 19,000 permitted landings, the actual number has been running closer to 16,000 for the last couple of years.

TEMSCO Helicopters is allocated more than 8,700 of those landings, with Era Helicopters second with more than 7,600.

TEMSCO would not comment to the Empire on the sound study.

Lash Larew, ERA Aviation's executive vice president, said he was hoping to see the number of landings allowed by the Forest Service increase for the coming season. But he doesn't think the delay with the environmental study will have a serious impact on ERA's bottom line for 2000.

``It doesn't surprise me,'' he said. ``It's freezing us at last year's levels.''

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