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A decade-long rain of citizens' complaints about aircraft noise has produced a draft noise ordinance that is at least a start toward solving the problem, according to Juneau Assembly Member Jim Powell.
But if Powell, the author of the ordinance, is optimistic about his measure's eventual effects, all involved agree it will do nothing for noise levels this summer. Some go further and predict that the process launched to deal with the issue may provide no relief in the future, either.
The draft, introduced at a March 13 meeting of the Planning and Policy Committee, will again be a focus of Tuesday's committee meeting.
To date, the limits of the impacts of flightseeing operations on Juneau residents have been defined by a process called ``voluntary compliance,'' an essentially contradictory phrase that describes an agreement between the city and flightseeing operators: The pact has the operators behaving according to guidelines the two parties have agreed to - though there are no consequences if operators don't comply.
At meetings of the Tourism Advisory and Planning and Policy committees, flightseeing company officials have
repeatedly cited their ongoing, voluntary efforts to quiet things down, including replacing noisy aircraft with less noisy planes and helicopters, decreasing the number of flights from the city harbor, and adjusting flight schedules and routes.
``We're going to do everything we can,'' said Wings President Bob Jacobsen. ``We've already gone great distances, and I'm very sorry that some people don't believe we have.''
The city, however, has had voluntary compliance for several years ``and it hasn't worked,'' Powell said Friday. ``It's about time we tried a regulatory fix.''
Powell said he knows ``there are legal problems with noise ordinances'' and fully expects his measure ``will be altered radically.''
But local noise ordinances aimed at controlling flight operations are extremely unlikely to survive a court test, according to city Community Development Director Cheryl Easterwood.
In a memorandum sent Thursday to the Planning and Policy Committee, Easterwood attacked the noise-ordinance concept on several fronts:
As written, the measure would regulate all noise sources in Juneau, from lawnmowers to the Fourth of July parade.
Control of air space is preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration and that includes control over noise. Any attempt to control any aspect of air space through a local ordinance will be shot down in court.
Every noise source in the city may well be operating within limits, but if they all go off at the same time, the noise levels will be higher than may be desired. In this instance, there is no way to say that any one of the noise sources violated the law.
``Communities down south have long struggled with this issue of cumulative noise with respect to highways,'' Easterwood concluded. ``The ordinance would have to break new ground.''
Longtime Juneau attorney Ray Preston, a vocal critic of the city's approach, said City Hall's rhetoric is ``disturbing in that instead of searching for ways to solve the problems, they're searching through legal precedence for excuses not to do anything.''
For Preston, the rules are not etched in stone. Citing a landmark 1973 Burbank Airport case, he ruminated that subsequent changes in federal regulations and in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court could turn things around: Burbank's failed attempt to cut noise pollution by setting curfews for airlines might succeed today, he said. And, by extension, so could Juneau's effort to quiet its own skies.
But what most riles Preston, he said, is that after much contentious public input about the noise problem at a recent Planning and Policy Committee hearing, ``the committee carried on as if nothing had happened.
``After all that hoopla last fall - the public hearings, the formation of this new (Planning and Policy) committee - they're not going to do anything.
``The setting is ripe for a new initiative,'' he warned.
At the March 13 committee meeting, assembly member Frankie Pillifant suggested the city might want to formulate a policy that addresses the noise problem, since there isn't one. Committee Chairman Tom Garrett assigned her and Tourism Advisory Committee member Kathleen Morse to do just that.
``I feel a bit adrift without a statement,'' Pillifant said.
And whether mitigation of aircraft noise is possible or not, ``it shows an intent that we want to deal with the issue,'' she said. ``Voluntary compliance is an effort in that direction, but it just isn't enough.''
Since the city owns the airport, it is in a position to regulate takeoffs and landings of aircraft, and ``Jim (Powell) has been told there is an ability to mandate aircraft elevations'' that might cut down on noise, she said.
``We're not going to drop it,'' Pillifant said. ``I'm not going to give this town away.''
The Planning and Policy Committee will consider Powell's measure further at its Tuesday meeting, at noon in the assembly chambers. The committee will also consider approval of this year's voluntary compliance measures for flightseeing, and review ordinances ``providing incentives for quiet technology,'' a series of proposals that would help flightseeing operators buy quieter aircraft.