Winter is nearly over, and the quiet days of watching the sun rise on Gastineau Channel will soon be replaced with scenes of a harbor crowded with cruise ships. Floatplanes and helicopters full of tourists will fan out in a 50-mile area, from Taku Glacier to Eagle Glacier. For some, the cacophony of summer is the sound of a seasonal paycheck. For others, the sounds of summer are incessant noise that drives them from their homes and back yards.
Members of the Peace and Quiet Coalition have worked for years to solve Juneau's flightseeing noise problem. Appointed groups such as the Tourism Advisory Committee (TAC) have come and gone. A ballot initiative last year caused great community debate but failed, and was followed by the failure of an expensive and time-consuming attempt to mediate the problem. Another attempt to mediate the issue is now underway through e-mail "shuttle mediation," so participants do not have to meet again face to face. The Peace and Quiet Coalition has chosen not to participate in this process.
Although we are not involved in shuttle mediation, Peace and Quiet continues to work toward solving the problem of flightseeing noise. Information taken from a number of meetings has been used to develop a solution that is simple and reasonable. The Peace and Quiet plan allows the flightseeing industry to continue to do business in a healthy manner, and will remove flightseeing noise from residential areas. Our plan is as follows:
Helicopter flightseeing - Much discussion has been heard about "satellite" heliports. It's clear flightseeing helicopters should not fly over residential areas. Peace and Quiet proposes construction of a "consolidated" heliport in the vicinity of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center (MGVC).
All helicopter flightseeing operations with Forest Service permits should be conducted from the MGVC area. The site is Forest Service property and the Forest Service has shown an interest in the plan. The site would consolidate Forest Service-permitted flightseeing operations that now are spread over 50 miles.
A consolidated site would allow operators quick access to the icefield, and will improve air safety by minimizing routing alternatives. Rather than have helicopters depart from all over town, they would depart from one central location. The site is on the main road system, and adequate parking facilities are available. The MGVC is already a major tourist destination with rest rooms and a federal visitor facility in place. It is a Forest Service recreation area, not a wilderness area. The heliport would be a mile and a half from residential areas.
We propose that operators locate their operations at the MGVC all summer, ferrying aircraft back and forth as little as possible. Maintenance facilities could be located there, too.
Floatplane flightseeing - We propose that all downtown floatplane flightseeing be relocated to the airport float pond, and that passengers be bused there directly from the ships. Floatplanes headed to Taku Lodge could fly on the west side of Douglas Island, in a manner similar to the route helicopter flightseeing tours took last summer.
The Peace and Quiet plan is simple and affordable. It removes flightseeing operations from residential neighborhoods. User-fee proceeds now charged by the Forest Service could be used for construction. All flightseeing operators would be asked to sign on to the plan voluntarily, as part of the "fly friendly" program they subscribe to.
The Peace and Quiet Coalition urges all Juneau flightseeing operators to seriously consider this plan. We ask that the Juneau Assembly endorse the plan in the form of a resolution. Peace and Quiet also encourages members of the public who are affected by flightseeing noise to contact members of the Assembly and the flightseeing operators. Ask them to adopt this reasonable solution to summer flightseeing noise. Let's work together for peace and quiet.
Kim Metcalfe submitted this column on behalf of the Peace and Quiet Coalition, a group of Juneau residents who advocate for quiet skies above Juneau.