Residentsprotest heliport plan

City will meet with state, federal agencies to discuss the agreement

Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2004

If only there were a silver bullet to solve the flight-seeing-noise dilemma.

Since 1988, various attempts have been made to regulate flight-seeing noise in Juneau. The latest one is the Juneau Helicopter Project Agreement, which came about through a partnership among city, state and federal agencies. The agencies plan to conduct an environmental analysis of all flight-seeing noise reduction strategies.

But the agreement has met strong opposition from residents, especially those from the Thane and Montana Creek neighborhoods, where heliports were proposed for construction.

"Shifting the burden of tourism flight-seeing noise from one set of people to another is not a solution," said Larri Irene Spengler, who represents 65 homes in the Thane Neighborhood Association. "This is a complicated matter with competing interests. It is not the kind of problem for which there is a simplistic, silver-bullet solution."

After hearing residents' protests at its Monday meeting, the Juneau Assembly's Committee of the Whole decided to discuss the agreement face-to-face with representatives of all the other cooperating agencies.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker suggested the committee rethink its approach to the issue.

"The present process is heavily weighted in favor of heliports in two specific locations - Thane and Mendenhall," Wanamaker said. "The heliport issue is pitting neighborhood against neighborhood. We should refer this to Collaboration Juneau to develop common ground."

Helicopter landings on the Juneau Icefield have risen from 11,559 in 1993 to 16,643 in 2003, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Paula Terrel, co-chairwoman of Collaboration Juneau, said flight-seeing noise is one of the two major issues the organization will address in its second phase, which starts in September. Collaboration Juneau is a nonprofit group that aims to bring the community together to identify ways of mitigating the effects of tourism.

The Juneau Heliport Project Agreement originated from federal funding provided to the Federal Highway Administration and the Forest Service in 2003 to do an environmental analysis of alternative heliports in Juneau.

In 2004, the Federal Highway Administration received almost $1 million and the Forest Service got $348,000 for the project.

In January of 2004, the city of Juneau, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration signed the agreement.

In April of 2004, all cooperating agencies amended the agreement, broadening its scope to include an environmental analysis of not only alternative heliports but also all the other possible noise reduction strategies.

Juneau is the only agency that hasn't signed the amended agreement. If the city doesn't sign the agreement, the federal funding will go back to that agency for other projects. If the city signs the agreement, the Federal Highway Administration will hire a consulting team to begin the project. There is no deadline for the city to sign it.

"The problem of flight-seeing noise is not going away," Assembly member Merrill Sanford said. "Now we have $1.3 million for free. If we don't do this now, sooner or later, we will have to come up with the money."

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