My Turn: A Mendenhall glacier heliport is not a sound solution

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

I've been a quiet supporter of resident and industry attempts to solve the flightseeing noise problem in a way everyone can live with. I fully agree low-elevation overhead flight paths must be kept away from residential neighborhoods.

But in the My Turn of March 11, the Peace and Quiet Coalition forgot about the even louder noise of take-offs and landings, and their proposed solution could unintentionally create as bad or worse a situation for hundreds of people who would have to face that kind of low-elevation, high-decibel noise.

I had assumed any heliport solution would be far from residential neighborhoods, and looked forward to that conclusion. But when the My Turn suggested locating a helicopter terminal at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center (MGVC) I was alarmed. Because, as a resident who lives only a couple of miles from the glacier, I must unequivocally state that a heliport at the MGVC won't solve the problem - it will just relocate it to a different neighborhood.

Why? The Visitor Center is cradled by ice and mountain formations akin to a three-sided canyon. Land- and snow-slides occasionally roar down the ravines, sounding like freight trains. Thunder Mountain is aptly named because the noise of sliding snow gets amplified and bounces around the glacier area like rumbling thunder. To put a constant stream of helicopters into such a reverberating canyon would be infinitely worse than those natural sounds which already can wake us from a sound sleep.

Sure, helicopters could go right to the glacier, avoiding flying directly over any houses. That's a good thing. But I believe the continual ground level take-offs and landings would be as bad or worse than far-overhead droning. Endless heliport noise would be like continual thunder, bouncing off the sharp mountain walls, flying across the water, echoing for miles.

Certainly before anyone seriously considers a heliport at the glacier, sound tests would have to be done. Hundreds of homes are in the near-glacier area, and more will be built soon. I'm willing to bet a weekend-long test of steady helicopter take-offs and landings from early morning to late night at the MGVC would get a very large percentage of those homeowners' attention. And I suspect most won't find the noise level acceptable.

The impacts a heliport would have on the glacial experience - for residents as well as tourists - must not be minimized. Now, many residents jog, walk, hike, kayak, wind-surf and sightsee with visiting guests on both sides of Mendenhall Lake. Locals proudly direct visitors to the federal and private campgrounds nearby. These opportunities are precious. And partly so because the glacier's calm - yes, and quiet - massive body slows us human beings, within, somehow, and removes us for a time from the frantic pace of 21st century life. It is like a step back to time primeval. Impose a steady heliport roar, and that precious aura is gone.

A glacier heliport would only relocate noise problems to a new neighborhood. Whether you live or recreate at the glacier, now's the time to urge people working for a solution to locate both overhead flight paths and heliport landing sites out of sound range of residential neighborhoods. If you're concerned, please contact your Assembly members and flightseeing operators. And you can fax your input to the Juneau Ranger District at 586-8808, and CBJ Manager's Office at 586-5385.

Peacefully yours, for quiet for all.

Sara Boesser lives near Skaters Cabin and moved to the neighborhood specifically for its natural setting and quiet.

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