Voters may decide on tour noise

City OKs initiative petition

Posted: Tuesday, May 09, 2000

The Peace and Quiet Coalition's initiative to lessen aircraft noise over Juneau will likely be the focus this summer of the battle between the flightseeing industry and its critics.

The initiative petition, OK'd by the city clerk Monday, needs 2,165 valid voter signatures to get on Juneau's ballot in October and must get them within 30 days of receipt of the petition booklets.

The measure would make flightseeing tours a 9-to-5 operation from May through September and mandate Saturdays be flightseeing-free. It would also allow new heliports only if developers showed they would not add to existing noise levels. In addition, the Juneau Assembly would be barred from expanding the number of areas where heliports could be built and barred as well from spending money to study new heliports, including the noise they might cause.

Initiative signatory Ray Preston said he expects the booklets may be on the streets Thursday.

``I wish the assembly had addressed the issue in a meaningful way,'' Preston said. ``This problem didn't happen overnight. The first letter I wrote to the assembly (about aircraft noise) was nine years ago.''

Support for the initiative will come from a number of areas, he said, including Thane and Douglas, the latter of which ``is especially affected by helicopter and fixed-wing noise.'' He said some subdivisions along Glacier Highway have been seriously affected, as well.

``I would hope the public dialogue and debate take place at a civil level, and that it doesn't get mean-spirited,'' he said.

Destination Juneau -- a pro-tourism group representing more than 200 businesses, according to President Jack Cadigan -- has taken up the gauntlet in the flightseeing noise issue.

The group has advertised against the petition, suggesting a ``No, thank you'' answer to signature-collectors. But he didn't detail other responses planned by Destination Juneau.

In a release about the arrival of Juneau's first big cruise ship Saturday, Cadigan touted the apparent lack of negative reaction to a helicopter noise test: ``A helicopter flying the self-imposed tourist route provided a `Sounds of Summer' demonstration fly-by so that Juneauites visiting the commercial neighborhood downtown could make their own judgments. None present seemed remotely aware that a helicopter flew by at about 12:10 as the ship was coming to dock.''

Cadigan said passage of the initiative would bring about a 42 percent reduction in flightseeing operations. He wondered aloud why a group opposing noise ``also opposes a noise study.''

The coalition ``has come in in a vitriolic fashion against work already done by the mayor and the assembly,'' Cadigan said.

Assembly member and chairman of the Planning and Policy Committee Tom Garrett shared the sentiment, at least in part: ``It's an easy thing to say nobody's doing anything about (flightseeing issues), when actually the PPC has taken a lot of time to address these very issues.''

One element of the issue -- reducing Juneau's tourist action on Saturdays -- appears in another proposal, a draft ordinance recently introduced in testimony before the assembly by resident Joe Sonneman.

Sonneman's ordinance would keep cruise ships from docking in Juneau on Saturdays, but appears to have found no port of its own among assembly members.

Asked about his next step, Sonneman said he was no more inclined to reveal it than was Gen. Schwarzkopf when the Gulf War commander was asked about his invasion plans.

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