Flightseeing editorial was divisive

Posted: Monday, May 08, 2000

The Peace and Quiet Coalition must respond to the Empire's editorial entitled, ``Flightseeing ban would hurt Juneau,'' because of its divisive tone and numerous inaccuracies.

Perhaps the most misleading notion put forward in the editorial is the statement: ``Reducing helicopter flights isn't going to help Juneau in the long run. It's just less money for the city, and how are we going to make it up?''

Surely the editorial staff of the Juneau Empire knows that flightseeing brings no tax revenue to the city. As noted in City Attorney John Corso's April 11, 2000, memo to the assembly's Policy and Planning Committee, ``There are a couple of exceptions to the rule that local tours are taxable. First, the State of Alaska prohibits local taxation of air transportation, so CBJ cannot tax the flight portion of flightseeing packages. Second, CBJ does not tax the commission charged by cruise lines when they market local tours to their passengers.'' Cutting back the hours of operation of the flightseeing industry will result in no loss of revenue to the CBJ.

The sarcastic statements about closing other tour-related businesses and reducing the number of Alaska Airline flights are without merit, and seek to trivialize the noise issue. The Peace and Quiet Coalition has no desire to destroy tourism in Juneau. We support tourism, but when tourism-related businesses make it impossible for residents to enjoy the privacy of their homes, those businesses must be regulated. No other industry is allowed to operate with noise levels as loud and incessant as those created by the flightseeing industry. Why is there a double standard for tourism-related industries?

Residents have testified time and again in CBJ hearings that aircraft noise makes it impossible to carry on conversations inside their homes, impossible to enjoy gardening, impossible to talk to a neighbor across the fence, and impossible to hike without noise destroying their wilderness experience. It is irresponsible for the Juneau Empire to dismiss a serious local issue with flip statements like ``Why don't we just go back to the `good old days' when South Franklin was filled with bars, winos and prostitutes.''

(It is obvious the editorial writer never enjoyed the South Franklin of 20 to 30 years ago when businesses were open year-round, where Sam and Gim Taguchi fed us at the City Cafe, we worked at the Juneau Cold Storage, shopped at Brown & Oliver's, and danced at the Crystal Saloon and the Dreamland).

Our initiative calling for limits on flightseeing activity was filed as a result of years of failed efforts to get flightseeing operators and our local assembly to deal with a continually escalating noise problem. Perhaps the editorial writer does not recall the first noise battle in the early 1990s that culminated in 1994 with a plan set out (but never followed) by the Juneau Ad Hoc Noise Abatement Study Committee?

Years later we find ourselves with noise levels that are intolerable, but at a city meeting in late February citizens who testified about noise were called ``tourism-hating minorities,'' ``noise complainers (who have) personal problems,'' and over-educated ``whiners'' by flightseeing operators and their supporters (see Feb. 29 Juneau Empire).

To add insult to injury, our mayor reacted to the flightseeing noise problem by handing the issue to Assemblyman Tom Garrett, undoubtedly the most industry-friendly member of the assembly. By doing so, Mayor Dennis Egan delivered a clear message to affected residents - there will be no change in CBJ policy regarding flightseeing noise.

Assemblyman Garrett worked with flightseeing operators to craft new voluntary compliance measures that change one departure route to benefit Fritz Cove residents, make an altitude adjustment over Gastineau Channel, and a promise to employ low-use zones over three recreational areas when possible. Garrett and the operators also explored expanding satellite heliports at CBJ expense and retooling aircraft to quiet technology by extending zero-interest loans from the CBJ.

In addition to their plans for heliport expansion, flightseeing operators applied to the U.S. Forest Service for more than twice the number of landings currently permitted. They wish to increase the number of icefield landings from 19,039 (permitted 1999 landings) to 41,691 landings by 2004.

The issue of flightseeing noise is not going to go away. The issue of Juneau's carrying capacity is not going to go away. The demographics that drive the cruise industry indicate an explosion in the number of retirees who have the income and time to travel, and Alaska is a preferred destination.

The Peace and Quiet initiative is the second major tourism-related initiative battle Juneau has faced. It's a shame we have to do business this way. The passenger fee's 70 percent approval rating should have made it clear to city hall that policies relating to tourism need to change, yet a winter's worth of meetings have resulted in no new regulation of the industry. When our local government fails to deal with important social and economic issues the citizens have a responsibility to do so. How many more initiatives will we have to circulate before our mayor and assembly understand they represent the citizens of Juneau and not the tourism industry?

Peace and Quiet Coalition members include Ray Preston, Mary Ann Parke, Kim Metcalfe-Helmar, Connie Trollan and Patty Ware.

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