Heliport plan stirs discussion

Locals scrutinize effects on noise, flightseeing businesses

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Juneau residents are beginning to evaluate what new heliports could mean to flight noise in the community but say more work is needed before changes are made.

The consulting firm Michael Baker Jr. Inc. released a report Monday that recommends alternate heliports be placed at Montana Creek in the Mendenhall Valley and Dupont, south of Thane, to reduce flightseeing noise. The study, prepared for the city, suggests all helicopter tours fly from the new heliports.

The heliport study includes some good ideas, but there are details that will have to be worked out, said Amy Windred, base manager for Era Helicopters. Which companies use which site will depend on a number of factors. Some companies fly both north and south, she said.

"Whether the community buys into it is the big question we have right now," she said.

Tim McDonnell, vice president of tours and marketing at TEMSCO helicopters, said how much the heliports will cost and who will pay for them are other questions that need to be answered.

"The process is a good one. Hopefully it will show everybody which direction to go that makes common sense," he said.

At NorthStar Trekking, president Bob Englebrecht said the two sites could reduce flightseeing noise significantly in residential areas, but issues such as safety, who will control the heliports and possible restrictions on operations need to be addressed.

"It takes the whole discussion a quantum leap forward. But there's a significant amount of work to be done before anything like this is implemented," he said.

Jim McEdward, a Lemon Creek resident, said he supports the plan as a way to reduce noise, but worries about enforcement.

"I like it if it eliminates all helicopter noise," he said. "My concern is whether they're going to stop all flights over the area. They need someone to police them."

Chip Thoma, an activist who has supported restrictions on the helicopter tour industry, said he supports the plan. The two recommended sites have been discussed as options before, but the only way helicopter companies will consider moving is if the community supports the new heliports, he said.

"I see it as the only way we can reduce the noise," he said. "It's going to take an entire community effort to say, yes, we want them moved," he said.

Thane Neighborhood Association President Larri Spengler said the organization would like time to poll or survey Thane residents about the proposal. Moving flight paths away from residential areas would be positive, but leads to questions about where the heliports fit into the city's overall tourism planning, she said.

Historically, Thane residents have been concerned about the condition and safety of Thane Road from Sheep Creek into downtown, especially if traffic increases, she said. Extending Thane Road to Dupont could change the character of neighborhood traffic, she added.

The study also suggests passengers could be taken to Dupont by boat.

Representatives from the Montana Creek Homeowners Association could not be reached for comment.

A meeting about the heliport study is at 7 tonight at Centennial Hall.

*****

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



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