Noise plans under scrutiny

City pitches industry's voluntary compliance as solution to problem

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2000

Plans for a quieter 2000 tourist season for Juneau range from having flightseeing operators fly higher to having them avoid recreation areas - if they want to.

Since the last ship sailed away four months ago, city officials have held meetings and hearings and formulated analyses and plans. What they've come up with is voluntary compliance - non-regulatory guidelines for flight behavior negotiated between flight operators and city officials.

The Juneau Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee and the Tourism Advisory Committee are holding a joint public hearing at Centennial Hall tonight to hear what people have to say about what's happened so far, and what hasn't happened.

With respect to noise, ``I don't think there's going to be a lot of change, this year,'' said Kim Metcalfe-Helmar, a Tourism Advisory Committee member.

``The flightseeing operators are talking with the Federal Aviation Administration about flying 500 feet higher, and they're proposing to avoid some recreation areas, such as Perseverance, Granite Creek, Spaulding Meadows and Eagle Beach.''

Planning and Policy Chairman Tom Garrett said that in addition to such changes, the city should play a role in encouraging operators to move to quieter technology. Property tax relief for the operators and low-cost loans from a revolving loan fund could also help, he said.

Garrett cautioned, however, that ``one of the issues with aircraft noise is the reality that much of it is not tourist generated.'' For example, TEMSCO and Coastal Helicopters have a significant amount of business that is charter work with the state Fish and Game Department, as well as with mining companies - activities that would not come under voluntary compliance, he said.

At a recent Tourism Advisory Committee meeting, Wings of Alaska President Bob Jacobsen distributed press releases to

committee members that touted an Otter conversion to turbine propulsion and an entirely new plane, also turbine powered - both quieter than the company's current, radial-powered Otters.

At the same meeting, Robert Reges, co-founder of the noise abatement group Cruise Control, distributed to the operators and committee members a draft ordinance granting some property-tax exemption to flightseeing operators who made the switch to quieter technology.

In addition to hearing the talk on voluntary compliance, the two committees are also hoping to get the public's reaction to a Feb. 14 memo, which made recommendations dealing with satellite heliports.

The memo was written by Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce, City Attorney John Corso, Community Development Director Cheryl Easterwood and Tourism Coordinator Caryl McConkie. It recommends the city hire an environmental consultant ``to establish a systematic process for the consideration of potential heliport sites and to evaluate potential sites . . . .''

Thane resident Ray Preston took exception to what he said was the Planning and Policy Committee's lack of public input, as well as the fact that it seemed to be forging ahead with satellite heliport proposals.

``Whatever the operators want seems to be a fait accompli,'' Preston said. Going along with ``noise ordinances and studies of heliports is also a fait accompli.''

Metcalfe-Helmar said she was angry that the Planning and Policy Committee put the Feb. 14 memo's recommendations on the agenda. ``At the last PPC meeting, the plan was to have only the voluntary compliance on the agenda,'' she said.

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