Initiative won't cost city FAA funds

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

The current scare tactic by tourism lobbyists to attack the flightseeing noise initiative is to claim that the initiative may cause CBJ a loss of federal airport funds. This is not the case. In fact, what we really face is a loss of political will by our elected representatives to deal with hard questions.

When the citizens of Juneau have asked their city government to address the problem of the ever-increasing noise from helicopters and floatplanes, city officials, rather than tackling the problem, have responded that the city may be foreclosed by the federal government from taking any action to reduce noise. Many citizens are astonished at the idea that the federal government might prevent us from addressing what seems to be a purely local issue.

On June 1, there was a teleconference meeting with FAA representatives attended by the city attorney, the airport manager, and three members of the public who are interested in noise reduction. All three of the public participants are lawyers. By the end of the meeting it was clear that the CBJ can implement the initiative provisions in a manner that meets federal concerns about regulation of activities at the Juneau airport. In fact, the FAA has a procedure that the city can follow. The procedure is found at 14 CFR 161. The procedure relates to noise control provisions. So long as the FAA's procedures are followed, there is no risk to airport funding. Juneau will vote on the initiative in October of 2000; the first restriction of flightseeing activities won't happen until May 1, 2001. This six-month period, after the initiative passes and before the flight restrictions go into effect, is plenty of time to work through the FAA procedures.

In fact, the initiative provisions do not break new legal ground. In 1998, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld several New York City restrictions on helicopter activity that were quite similar to the proposed ordinance. The New York City provisions limited the hours of helicopter operation; required the phasing out of weekend operations; and required the reduction of helicopter operations by 47 percent. In upholding the restrictions, the Court specifically found that the provisions were not preempted by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The initiative was drafted because many Juneau folks have become frustrated at the lack of substantial progress made by the CBJ in controlling tourist flight noise. Flightseeing activity has more than doubled since the city first began forming committees and reviewing the issue. The flightseeing operators now have requested more than double again the current number of landings on the icefield over the next three seasons - from the 19,000 landings permitted this year to more than 41,000 in 2004. People are tired of the increasing noise. It is past time to act.

Hugh Malone has lived in Juneau for the past 14 years where he has served in both the legislative and executive branches of Alaska's state government.

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