My Turn: Give those impacted by noise consideration

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2001

At the Juneau Empire Citizens Advisory Board meeting I attended in July, I stated that the Empire has the opportunity to unite or divide this community; to build it up or tear it down. You can bring our town together to seek common ground or you can increase the divisiveness of many issues we face.

Steve Reed's editorial of Aug. 29 concerning the Katie John decision was a step in the right direction: Toward reconciliation be- tween opposing sides and encouraging respect for the situations of other folks. This state and our community need to heal many wounds. It was an opinion which needed stating, was well-written and I commend him for speaking up.

However, I was deeply disappointed in Don Smith's Sunday helicopter flightseeing editorial. I also encourage members of the public to send in comments on the DEIS, but before they do, I urge them to consider the plight of many of their neighbors. Most of us who are severely negatively impacted by flightseeing noise do not want to put the helicopter companies out of business, but we do need relief from the ever-present noise over our homes or areas of recreation. All but one of these companies were viable businesses before flightseeing started and would likely continue to be if the numbers of flights were reduced. They are valued businesses in our community.

Mr. Smith's interpretation of last fall's vote on flightseeing is incorrect: The vote did not necessarily show support for the flightseeing industry. It was a defeat of a measure which the majority of voters thought would be too restrictive for the industry. Last summer I spoke with dozens of folks on the topic of flightseeing noise. At least 75 percent supported a large reduction in noise levels and numbers of flights.

While some visitors to our town enjoy the privilege of a trip to the icefield, the majority of our visitors do not. It is an expensive tour. Some visitors who do not flightsee also complain of the noise that is generated by this industry. There are less obtrusive ways to view the glacier; one does not need to walk on it to enjoy its beauty. Selecting a ride on a bus or the tram, or taking hiking or biking tours also enable people of all ages and physical abilities to see one of the great wonders of the world in a safe, ecologically sound way.

Mr. Smith notes that if folks couldn't take a flightseeing tour they might all hike up to the icefield instead, impacting the fragile eco-system. This after he implies that the tours can be for those who would never have the physical ability to take such a hike. In fact, some of those who take a flightseeing tour also hike on our trails. His is a specious argument.

What Mr. Smith and other proponents of expanding the industry may be forgetting is that many of their neighbors are suffering through hours of noise nearly every day for 5-6 months of the year. These noise levels increased dramatically over the past seven summers. Mr. Smith's editorial does not point out that Alternative F could actually increase the number of flights by 45 percent by 2006, compared to current levels, and Alternative G would increase it by 84 percent. Actually, Alternatives D and E, which leave the authorized landings where they are now, also allow the businesses to grow (at a rate of about 2.9 percent per year over the next five years) since they are still about 3,000 landings short of their allocation.

How are those of us who are being hammered by noise now supposed to bear those increases?

Only Alternative B, which reduces landings to the levels they were at in 1994, before the noise levels became intolerable, truly addresses a reduction in flightseeing landings. Rather than increasing these businesses, it might be better to have our community work toward a sustainable level of tourism: One where independent and cruise ship tourists and we locals could all enjoy being here.

The best way to address the concerns of local citizens and minimize the impacts of flightseeing is to reduce the numbers of landings. I urge you to read the DEIS at http://www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/planning/helilanding and submit your comments to arrive no later than Sept. 24 to: Ellen Hall, Foster Wheeler Environmental Corporation, 12100 NE 195th Street, Suite 200, Bothell, WA 98011, or ehall@fwenc.com.

Please respect the difficult situation some of your neighbors are in, support them, and help them find some relief from the noise.

*****

Becky Carls is a 22-year resident of Juneau who is a proponent of quieter skies over Juneau's residences and trails.



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