City may help pay for quieter aircraft

Ordinance would give tax break to outfits that invest in quieter aircraft

Posted: Friday, March 02, 2001

The city wants to open its coffers to local flightseeing operators and will introduce an ordinance at Monday night's assembly meeting that subsidizes helicopter tour providers for buying quieter machines.

City staff also is recommending grants for fixed-wing operators at downtown docks who opt for quieter operations.

The ordinance introduces a definition for quiet aircraft as it applies to helicopters and provides a temporary 10-year, 100 percent property assessment exemption for qualifying quiet aircraft.

"This is one piece of a comprehensive approach we're taking for dealing with the tourism noise issue," said Planning and Policy Committee Chairman Jim Powell. The committee discussed elements of the ordinance at its Thursday meeting.

"This is not the big fix, but it is an important element among others the committee is pursuing that include deciding where to put a consolidated heliport, developing a long-term tourism plan, improving the voluntary compliance program and continuing flightseeing noise mediation," Powell said.

In fiscal 2002, the city is anticipating assessing approximately 35 helicopters for $16.2 million, including apportioning the value of aircraft that are in Juneau only part of the time, said city Finance Director Craig Duncan.

Duncan calculates the exemption would cost the city $20,000 in fiscal 2003, $40,000 in fiscal 2004, and $60,000 in fiscal 2005.

"The figures are a guess," he said. "They assume a phase-out of 10 percent of current aircraft a year."

The cost of new, quieter helicopters is about $1.8 million, whereas current-technology helicopters cost about $800,000. A 100 percent exemption for the new craft would be worth 1.2 percent of the aircraft's market value to the operators.

Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce touted the noise reduction available with the new technology at Thursday's meeting, citing in particular one new helicopter's noise output at 84.3 EPNdB, a level lower than allowed at the Grand Canyon - the strictest standard in the country.

The ordinance includes the standard: "Quiet aircraft means a helicopter having a flyover calculated noise level of 85 EPNdB ..."

Pierce cautioned that the standard is not a strict decibel reading but does signify a considerable reduction in noise.

Juneau attorney Ray Preston, a founder of the Peace and Quiet Coalition, questioned whether the standard meant anything at all.

"I don't know what the standard for the Grand Canyon is or what 85 EPNdB means," he said. "I am familiar with 85 dB, and that's pretty loud."

Numbers are not the whole story, he said, and suggested "it would not be unreasonable for someone to demonstrate at an assembly meeting just how loud such decibel levels are and whether anybody could have a conversation in the midst of such noise. That's never been done."

Preston assailed the very premise of the ordinance.

"The concept is backwards: Here we have a group of businesses who have collectively created a nuisance and now we're going to reward them for abating the nuisance," he said.

The ordinance does not include an exemption for fixed-wing aircraft because state statutes make it difficult to apply a property assessment exemption to a particular target - in this case Gastineau Channel operations, said Pierce. The city therefore is recommending a grant program for fixed-wing operations.

Fernand Chandonnet can be reached at

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