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Flightseeing operators told the Juneau Assembly on Monday night that they are making progress in addressing aircraft noise concerns, while residents countered that the companies and the city aren't doing nearly enough.
The discussion centered on the flightseeing section of the city's voluntary compliance program - an agreement among the city and tour operators. The Assembly unanimously accepted the section, directing city staff members to meet with the operators in the next two weeks to explore options for monitoring and reporting.
NorthStar Trekking President Bob Engelbrecht said flightseeing operators are using quieter aircraft and have adjusted routes and hours to respond to community concerns. The No. 1 priority for flightseeing operators is safety, he said.
Operators started modifying routes to minimize noise in the early 1980s, he said. For example, a new route this year will take helicopters to the Herbert Glacier and the Juneau Icefield over McGinnis Creek on good weather days, avoiding the Windfall Lake area, Engelbrecht said. A Spaulding Meadows route is designed to avoid U.S. Forest Service cabins and the Montana Creek Trail. Operators plan to send a newsletter to Juneau residents this month with descriptions and maps of flightseeing routes.
Under the voluntary compliance program, operators agreed not to schedule glacier tour flight departures before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. and to complete all tour flights by 9 p.m.
Wings of Alaska President Bob Jacobsen said his company routinely goes beyond the guidelines in the program. The company's latest departure is 6 p.m., he said.
"The floatplane impact is less today than in the late 1980s or early '90s," he said. "It is in our best interest to narrow down our flights."
Public testimony was unanimously against the city's agreement. Thane resident Cindy Buxton said the voluntary compliance program doesn't do enough to address hours of operation. She said it would be nice to know more about when flights are scheduled and suggested the city set up quiet zones around schools.
"It seems that this document allows (the operators) to have the blessing of the city to flightsee all day long. This document doesn't guarantee my children quiet at any time," she said.
Amy Crook said a tighter agreement and more specifics are needed.
"I recall sitting here last year saying much the same thing," she said.
Assembly member Jim Powell said it would be good to keep track of the number of flights and other data to evaluate how the voluntary compliance agreement is working, suggesting the city and operators work on monitoring and reporting. Operators said they would be willing to discuss the issue, but added the start of the cruise ship season brings time constraints.
Assembly member Marc Wheeler said a new report about the city's legal options on flightseeing and a long-range tourism plan will keep the issue under discussion. A failed mediation effort is one reason why more changes weren't implemented this season, he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.