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A fight over flights

Opposition building to flightseeing initiative

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

The board of directors of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce has unanimously come out against the flightseeing initiative that would set strict hours for helicopter traffic during the tourist season.

A board resolution, approved Thursday evening, warns of ``far-reaching adverse consequences'' if the initiative is approved by voters in the fall, and says it would constitute ``discrimination'' against the aviation industry and undermine year-round air service.

The resolution was passed before a new tourism committee set up by the chamber could do more than initially organize.

``The chamber felt very strongly,'' said President Kathy Kolkhorst, explaining why the vote of the board occurred without the input of the committee.

Ray Preston, one of the five citizens calling themselves the Peace and Quiet Coalition, said the action on the group's initiative was expected.

``That's the sort of thing we would expect from the Chamber of Commerce,'' he said. ``I think the voters of this community deserve an opportunity to have their say on this initiative.''

The swift positioning on the issue by the chamber and by the pro-tourism group Destination Juneau contrasts with the lack of an organized opposition to the cruise ship passenger head tax passed by voters last fall.

``It certainly would be safe to say that the business community figures you can't just let stuff go by,'' said Jack Cadigan, president of Destination Juneau. ``I guess you could term last year as a wake-up call to the business community. We simply can't trust that everybody will understand what's there, because life's not fair.''

The initiative would limit flightseeing to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. six days a week and would ban it altogether on Saturdays, from May through September. It also would prevent the Juneau Assembly from approving new heliports without guarantees that noise levels wouldn't increase and it would bar the use of public money for noise studies.

Among the ``whereas'' clauses in its resolution, the chamber proclaimed: ``The approval and implementation of this initiative would have far-reaching consequences, reducing and preventing commerce and gainful employment, preventing Juneau citizens as well as visitors from accessing federal lands, and reducing the number of aircraft and type of aircraft facilities available for public health, safety and year-round search and rescue purposes.''

Preston dismissed the argument that current flightseeing volumes in the summer are necessary to ensure year-round air services for local residents.

``I don't accept that,'' he said. ``These businesses existed long before it got to this point.''

Although noise levels this summer have been ``not too bad,'' Preston said the real test is ahead, when there are back-to-back days with multiple ships in port. It's the relentlessness, perhaps even more than the decibels of the noise, that has concerned residents, some of whom have ``abandoned their gardens, abandoned their yards,'' he said.

The initiative needs 2,165 valid voter signatures to get on the October ballot. They must be gathered within 30 days of receipt of petition booklets from the city clerk, a clock that was to have started running last week.



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