City leaves noise initiative to voters

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Juneau's voters this fall will decide whether they believe the Peace and Quiet initiative will bring peace and quiet to city skies.

After listening to City Attorney John Corso talk about the pros and cons of the aircraft-noise-abatement measure Monday night, the Juneau Assembly voted 7-1 not to exercise its option to turn the initiative into an ordinance. That means the measure will go on the October municipal election ballot.

Assembly member Frankie Pillifant cast the only vote in favor of turning the initiative into an ordinance.

``I felt it was incumbent on the assembly to ask ourselves in public what we could do,'' Pillifant said this morning. ``I personally think the initiative has problems, such as taking the option away from the city to explore satellite heliports. But a substantial enough number of people support the initiative that we needed to look at it.''

The measure would make commercial flightseeing tours a 9-to-5 operation from May through September and ban them on Saturdays. It would also allow new heliports only if developers showed they would not add to existing noise levels. In addition, the assembly would be barred from expanding the number of areas where heliports could be built, and from spending money to study new heliports, including the noise they might cause. The initiative also mandates that the city ask the Forest Service to cut back on the helicopter landings it permits on the Juneau Icefield.

In an eight-page memo to the assembly, Corso said, ``Local regulation of aircraft noise is difficult but doable,'' especially if city staff and concerned citizens initiate a dialogue with the Federal Aviation Administration, aircraft traffic's national regulating body.

But, Corso said, the dialogue with the FAA initiated by the city in May ``has been overtaken by the Tourist Flight Initiative, which has made all the big decisions.''

If the FAA doesn't agree with those decisions, the city is ``between a federal rock and a municipal hard place: The FAA can withhold grant funds until the initiative is changed, but the initiative cannot be changed for one year after adoption,'' Corso said.

The city attorney also warned that limitations on flights away from FAA-regulated airport space are likely to be tested by the FAA and flight operators with a federal lawsuit seeking to enjoin the limitations.

And even if the city were to prevail in the lawsuit, Corso said, operators would claim grandfather rights under the city's current zoning regulations.

``I think that none of the attorneys involved have any disagreement about the parameters of the law,'' said Juneau attorney Deborah Vogt, a spokeswoman for the Peace and Quiet Coalition -- sponsors of the initiative.

``We disagree on emphasis and conclusions,'' Vogt said.

The FAA cannot disapprove of and has no veto power over city regulations, she said, and ``FAA grants are certainly not in jeopardy if the city follows the (FAA) procedures for noise regulation at the airport.''

As for the initiative's limitation of city involvement in investigating satellite heliport sites or even conducting related noise studies, Vogt said, ``I think there are a lot of folks out there making a lot of money (with flightseeing) and they should pay for the studies -- not the city.''

She was impressed that 25 percent of those who voted in the last city election took the opportunity to sign the initiative, she said. ``I think there's a very, very strong feeling in the community that something's gotta be done.''



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