City dumps flight noise mediation

Assembly committee will try to resolve heated tourism issues

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2001

The city has backed out of flight-noise mediation, opting instead to address long-simmering aircraft noise issues via the Juneau Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee.

The months-long effort by the city and the U.S. Forest Service to get flight operators and various citizens' groups to agree about how to handle the problem came to an abrupt end in December when Seattle mediation consultant Lois Schwennesen, under contract to the Forest Service, packed her bags and left town.

She said an agreement was unlikely and identified in particular the Peace and Quiet Coalition as troublemakers. A court decision negating Schwennesen's ban on tape recording of the mediation group's meetings also added to the animus between the consultant and the anti-noise activist allied with the Peace and Quiet Coalition who initiated the taping effort.

"We're going to drop (noise mediation) and take the process before the PPC," said Planning and Policy Committee Chairman Jim Powell this morning. "We're taking the product from the

mediation effort, particularly the issues of quiet (aircraft) technology and satellite heliports, and we're asking the city attorney what we can do to regulate, not what we can't do, which is what we did in the past."

Powell said his committee would look at providing flight operators with property-tax breaks for purchasing quieter aircraft and in general implementing any technology that lessened flight noise.

A list of items agreed to by all nine caucuses taking part in the mediation effort will constitute the thrust of the PPC's effort. These include modifying flight routes, operations and altitudes; determining the effectiveness of helicopter satellite facilities; defining regulations; investigating quiet technology options and incentives; and developing a more predictable schedule for flightseeing tours.

The city's efforts to lessen aircraft noise will run parallel to the Forest Service's continuing efforts to mediate the way to solutions, Powell said.

A Superior Court decision in December quashed the city attorney's assertion that the state's Open Meetings Act did not apply to the mediation meetings. But the city's effective removal from the process now transfers questions about open meetings and taping to the federal level.

The Forest Service intends to issue a request for bids from mediators in its effort to continue the process, District Ranger Pete Griffin said this morning, and "the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the sunshine law, and the Freedom of Information Act will all apply."

With respect to tape recording, Griffin said, "If I went to our attorney and said we wanted to prohibit it, I don't think we could."

Griffin said he wanted future proceedings to be an "open process" but also felt the "need to have private discussions."

Asked whether continuing Forest Service mediation efforts would take heed of Schwennesen's recommendation that the Peace and Quiet Coalition not be represented in future, Griffin said, "I honestly don't know. We're going to have to design that process.

"I think we kind of stalled over this process," he said. "We were that close to reaching out and touching the solutions. It was very disappointing to everybody at the table."

One Peace and Quiet Coalition member was "flabbergasted" that the PPC planned to take on the issues directly. As a coalition alternate representative to the mediation meetings, Deborah Vogt said the work "took up my whole life for the past four months. And now the PPC is going to meet every two weeks for an hour. I just don't see how they're going to do it."

Powell said he was confident the committee could produce an experimental program for heliports within the next three months. He also thought allowing 10 minutes for public input at each PPC meeting would satisfy concerns about community involvement in the settlement of the aircraft-noise issue.

Powell expressed confidence that his committee is having a good start.

"We're not just on the ground here," he said. "We're already in the air."

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