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Residents ask for more data on copters' effects

Posted: Friday, September 07, 2001

Much of the comment at a meeting Thursday about proposed Juneau Icefield helicopter landing limits centered on what isn't in a Forest Service environmental study, as residents asked for more information about noise, wildlife and economics.

The Forest Service draft environmental impact statement is one step toward setting the number of helicopter landings on the icefield for the next five years. Currently, four companies land helicopters on the glacier a total of between 16,000 and 17,000 times each year.

About 50 people attended Thursday's meeting at the Guest House Suites.

Ellen Hall, a consultant who helped prepare the study, said the document covers the negative and positive impacts of helicopters on residents, recreation, wildlife and new areas proposed for landings.

The document includes seven proposals, including one that would prohibit icefield landings. Other alternatives would allow between 11,881 to 30,662 landings annually by 2006.

Thane resident Paula Terrel asked the agency to make a greater effort to explore the negative impact of noise on property values. Although she wasn't pointing to a problem in Thane, some people in the community are having trouble selling their homes because of noise, she said.

"People are not going to be telling you about this, because then they really can't sell their house," she said. "I really think some effort needs to be made to quantify it."

Karla Hart, who supports fewer icefield landings, said numbers in the study's economic analysis section were imprecise, flawed or missing. She asked for more information about how noise affects communication, health and children.

If the Forest Service plans a more detailed economic study, Coastal Helicopters owner Jim Wilson said the agency should include data on how helicopter companies positively contribute to local businesses and the community.

Hall said the staff members working on the plan have been talking about what level of economic analysis is needed. The approach should be balanced, she said.

"I think I can say that if we get into a deeper economic analysis, we have to go across the board," she said.

Other comments centered on noise. Dylan Quigley said he didn't think the study placed enough focus on how Juneau residents are affected by helicopters.

"In essence, what we're talking about is quality of life in Juneau," he said. "It's hard to go out in the summertime months and work to get to a place. You hike way up in the mountains and helicopters are all over the place. It's downright embarrassing."

Representatives from local helicopter companies have said they favor two alternatives that would allow increases in the number of landings. Bill Clutton, who works for Era Helicopters, said there are two sides to the issue.

"We have a privilege and a right to come and enjoy our national forest. We're not all blessed with the health to hike (to the icefield). For some people, the only way to enjoy it is by air," he said.

Becky Carls said the new draft environmental impact statement is an improvement over the agency's last analysis of helicopter landings, issued in 1995. But she said four of the alternatives in the plan would increase the number of landings, while just one would decrease them. She suggested a 7 percent reduction in landings per year.

"Two more summers at these noise levels are two too many," Carls said.

After the meeting, TEMSCO's Tim McDonnell said he wasn't surprised by any of the comments. Helicopters companies are trying to fly in a neighborly way and respond to noise concerns, he said.

The deadline to submit written comments on the draft plan is Sept. 24. The Forest Service expects to release a final environmental impact statement in January. Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin said he likely will chose a variation on one of the proposals. Whether changes will be in place by next summer will depend on which option is selected, he said.

"It could be difficult, especially if there's a decrease," he said. "It could be difficult, but doable."

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Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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