Until recently it seems to me that the debate over a new heliport was pretty civil and there was respect for those who are worried about the impacts of flightseeing noise in their neighborhood. But this seems to have changed, especially in relation to the Thane neighborhood.
I have heard comments like "Why can't Thane share in the impacts of tourism and do its part for the community?" and "Why is a special interest in Thane holding up a new heliport?" These comments indicate to me that some people and even some city leaders think that the Thane neighborhood is expendable.
I'd like to respond to both comments.
First, Thane has borne its share in the growth of the tourism industry and has done its part to support reasonable economic growth in Juneau. Here are some examples:
Consider that for over four months Thane residents can only get to and from town by driving through the heart of the cruise ship crowds and it is, indeed, a mind-boggling experience, fraught with traffic congestion and safety concerns. A normally short drive can easily take 20 minutes!
When Juneau resident Jerry Harmon wished to start a new business on Thane, taking tourists on a historical mine tour, he worked with Thane to accommodate neighborhood concerns and we welcomed his venture and wished him luck.
During the summer, more and more tourists drive or bike to Sheep Creek to fish, view the salmon returning to the hatchery, or enjoy an evening at the Thane Ore House. Many also drive to the end of Thane Road to enjoy a hike on the Dupont trail. It is interesting to note that the proposed Thane heliport sites would ensure that neither tourists nor Juneau residents would be able to enjoy one of these unique places.
And, we do get flightseeing noise all the way to the end of Thane.
Thane residents have been gracious and accepting of these changes. Now, we are being asked to accept a heliport that will change the neighborhood forever and will bring far more noise and safety concerns to Thane than it presently experiences. Think how you would feel if this were happening in your neighborhood.
Second, to those who call Thane a "special interest group," Thane is no more or less an interest group than other group of Juneau residents or neighborhoods who are concerned about flightseeing noise.
We are people who have lived in Juneau for a long time; we have contributed to this community, and we deserve to have our concerns considered without being unfairly attacked. We are only trying to prevent from happening to our neighborhood the very thing that some Juneau residents are trying to get rid of in their own neighborhoods.
It makes no sense to simply relocate the problem to another neighborhood. All Juneau residents need a comprehensive solution to both helicopter and floatplane noise and we expect a solution that provides for tourism without making any neighborhood bear the brunt of flightseeing noise.
Both of the proposed Thane heliport sites, Sheep Creek and Dupont, will irrevocably alter the peaceful, safe, and rural nature of the Thane neighborhood. Sheep Creek would be destroyed as a recreational area. The Dupont site would cause significant congestion, safety and noise problems for Thane residents.
In conclusion, Thane Neighborhood Association continues to urge the Assembly to remove the language from its draft Tourism Plan that specifies a Thane heliport site; our neighborhood association does appreciate the support of those Assembly members with whom we have talked for this deletion. The city's Web site shows that testimonies and comments that mentioned a heliport preference opposed the Thane site by about seven to one. This should be a clear message to drop the Thane sites from the current plan.
Paula Terrel has been a resident of Thane for 18 years and has been a Thane Neighborhood Association Board member for 12 years.