Heliport at the glacier?

Ranger polls groups on noise solutions

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2001

A heliport in the Dredge Lakes area is among flight-noise mitigation options being considered by the U.S. Forest Service as it pursues continued mediation among aircraft operators, the agency and public interest groups.

"I put it on the table to see if I could get a sense of what people are thinking," said Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin. "The remote heliports concept needs to be worked into the overall noise reduction effort."

Griffin stressed that the idea was not simply for expansion of existing flight business but was an alternative concept.

Griffin also is asking groups that took part in recently ended mediation efforts for comments on alternate routes and altitudes helicopters might use during the coming season on their way to glacier landings on Forest Service land.

Suggestions about how high and which route the helicopters might fly came "pretty much from the operators themselves," Griffin said. In general, the idea is to "get up to altitude earlier and remain high longer," he said.

The idea of a heliport at Dredge Lakes came out of the mediation efforts, said environmental activist Chip Thoma. He's been plugging the concept to city authorities, including the Juneau Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee.

"When I first heard it, the light bulb came on," he said. "Let's quit thinking that everything needs to be on the waterfront. This is the perfect spot because it's so far away from the valley population."

If the helicopters were kept at the Dredge Lakes site overnight for maintenance and fueling, "we'd be way ahead of the game, and ahead of the other sites being considered: Sheep Creek, the rock dump and out in Lynn Canal," Thoma said.

"I told them at the PPC (in the assembly chambers): Look at the picture behind you; that's where it needs to be," he said.

Peace and Quiet Coalition member Kim Metcalfe-Helmar said her group supports a heliport at the site.

The group last fall fielded an unsuccessful flight-noise mitigation initiative.

"A heliport at the visitor's center makes sense," Metcalfe-Helmar said. "If we put them all there they can fly right up the glacier and cover no neighborhoods at all. It takes all the noise to one place where there aren't any residents."

The Juneau Alpine Club's Barb Turley said the idea was "pretty strange."

The Dredge Lakes area, comprising about 600 acres near Mendenhall Lake, is used for runs, walks and birding, Turley said. To have the heliport there "would be very depressing," she said.

Further, the Juneau Nordic Ski Club maintains cross country ski trails, and the local chapter of the Audubon Society conducts guided hikes through the area. "It's a real important nesting area and a stop for migratory birds as well," Turley said.

About 200 acres of the area was closed to all-terrain vehicles in 1995 because of noise problems and vehicle-generated damage to property.

The recommendations for altitude and route changes and introduction of the heliport site to former mediation constituents are part of the groundwork Griffin is doing to continue the mediation effort, he said.

Triangle Associates, a Seattle environmental mediation company, has been hired to conduct the mediation. That company also conducted mediation efforts that were called off in December after constituent groups failed to reach consensus about open meetings and other issues.

This time around, Griffin is "suggesting more of a shuttle mediator effort," he said. The new consultant is expected to be the principal communicator between the groups represented.

Consensus may still be a way off, however.

"Shuttle mediation is ridiculous," said Peace and Quiet Coalition's Metcalfe-Helmar, whose group was part of the failed talks. "We went through it already and it was a complete disaster. We need to do this in public. That's what's been lacking: We need public hearings."

Fernand Chandonnet can be reached at fchandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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