Researchers will spend the next three months looking for places to put alternate heliports in Juneau, but a perfect solution might not be available, according to city consultants.
The city has asked national engineering firm Michael Baker Jr. Inc. to find at least one site north of downtown Juneau and one site south of downtown that could be used for a heliport, according to senior environmental manager McKie Campbell. The effort is the second phase of a city-sponsored flightseeing noise study initiated last year.
More than 30 people attended a public meeting about selection criteria Thursday.
Team members have a map with 18 possible broad site areas throughout the borough, and are accepting suggestions for other spots. Campbell said some sites could be used year-round, while others might be appropriate for seasonal use. Researchers will look at whether a site might be used for an entire operation or serve as a satellite heliport, he said.
"Different sites lend themselves to different possibilities," he said.
Screening criteria include safety, land availability, noise, traffic and ground impacts, flight restrictions, economics and environmental considerations.
"Safety is our No. 1 criteria. There will be no compromise there," aviation specialist Reg Weaver said.
Research will be "noise-driven," Campbell said, although other criteria could knock a spot off the list.
"We're not really hopeful of finding a site that will be excellent in all of those categories," he said, adding that the focus will be on sites that are significantly better than others.
Noise specialist Paul Dunholter of BridgeNet International said researchers will be using noise data gathered last year in Juneau to compare sites. Studies will focus on the number of homes that might be affected, the number of overflights at different noise levels, noise averages and other measurements.
Screening will take place in June and July. By the end of August, researchers hope to issue a final report and meet with the Juneau Assembly about the results. Another public meeting will be scheduled in September, Campbell said.
During public comment, Robert Reges said a study that focuses on helicopter noise is too narrow.
"You've got to include fixed-wing (aircraft) to solve the noise problem," he said. "You've started off with blinders on."
Campbell said helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft present different sets of questions and answers. Researchers aren't ignoring fixed-wing aircraft, and have been asked to analyze the effect on noise if all floatplanes left from the airport, he said. The city also asked the firm to study quieter helicopter technology, he said.
During public comment, Arnold Liebelt said he would support consolidated operations, but has concerns about a satellite heliport.
"This might not be a solution to reducing noise. This might not be a path we want to go down," he said.
Campbell, a former Assembly member, said the study is intended to give people the best possible information about heliport options.
"There's no single step that can solve the noise problem. But this is the single biggest available step in making it significantly better. It doesn't preclude other steps in other areas," he said.
The city is using $100,000 in marine passenger fee proceeds to fund the research.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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