Agency to review chopper regulations on Juneau Icefield

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2008

The U.S. Forest Service sought public comment Wednesday as it re-evaluates how it regulates helicopter landings on the Juneau Icefield.

Residents have long complained about the noise the helicopters make as they fly overhead. Some came to an informal public meeting held by the Forest Service at Centennial Hall to collect new information on the landings.

"We're still upset about the noise. And nothing has happened to mitigate it," said Laura Lucas, a North Douglas resident for the last 30 years.

"I think a certain part of the population has given up in trying to talk about noise," she said.

The Forest Service decides where, when and how many helicopters can land throughout the summer. Last year, the icefield had about 20,000 landings of the 22,000 that were allowed in a 2002 decision. The helicopter operators had requested 42,000 landings.

Now the agency is reviewing its 2002 decision to make sure the science in it on noise, harassment of wildlife or other potential problems is still current and valid.

The 2002 decision has been appealed eight times. Some appeals came from helicopter operators concerned about the safety of flight paths, and some were related to the effects of noise on people or wildlife. The noise appeals did not result in any change to the Forest Service decision.

"That's a very big issue for some people," said Dave Carr, project leader at the Forest Service.

Before the decision, the city and the Forest Service went into mediation but failed to resolve Juneau residents' concerns about noise.

The 2002 decision included an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to collect noise data and study alternatives for noise reduction. The city also has been collecting data.

Helicopters have been taking tourists to the icefield since 1984. In 2002, tourists paid between $15 million and $20 million total to fly to the icefield, according to the Forest Service.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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