Heliports bring tradeoffs

Citizens, business owners debate merits, drawbacks of new plan

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

For residents of Thane and Montana Creek, a proposal to build heliports near their neighborhoods would mean balancing increased traffic with community-wide changes in flightseeing noise.

About 70 people attended a meeting Tuesday at Centennial Hall to discuss alternative heliport sites identified for the city by consultant Michael Baker Jr. Inc.

Montana Creek Subdivision residents Dave and Carlene Conway said the consultant's study is valuable, but they aren't necessarily pleased with the results. They have concerns about traffic increases from a heliport and are worried the flight-noise measurements don't accurately represent possible changes.

"I don't want to see flights decrease, but I don't want to see satellite heliports," Dave Conway said. "We should cap what we have now."

The new report recommends transferring all helicopter tour flights to heliports past the end of Montana Creek Road in the Mendenhall Valley and at Dupont, south of Thane. According to the study, the number of homes under flight paths would drop from 6,037 to zero. While helicopter noise still would be audible, it would decrease in many cases, according to the study.

"The decision on whether or not to have alternate heliports is going to be a policy decision. There isn't anywhere to put them where there aren't going to be significant trade-offs," consultant McKie Campbell said.

Michelle Kaelke, a member of the West Mendenhall Valley Neighborhood Association, also had questions about study's noise measurements. The association objects to industrial

activity in the neighborhood, she said.

"I think it's a great idea to decrease the overall impact, but by moving the impact, you're not eliminating the problem, just diffusing it to other areas," she said.

The West Mendenhall Valley Neighborhood Association meets Oct. 3 and plans to poll residents about the proposal, Kaelke said. The Thane Neighborhood Association also plans to poll residents.

Campbell said the city has discussed the possibility of running additional test flights and informing neighbors so they can listen for themselves. Kaelke said residents welcome the idea.

Traffic along Thane Road also was a subject of discussion. The study suggests the road be extended a mile and a half to the new Dupont heliport or catamaran-type boats be used to transport passengers. Some combination of the two might be the solution, the study said.

Thane resident Chris Mertl suggested the community keep helicopter operations where they are now, but reduce the number of flights by 20 percent.

"I would be happy to put up with noise as long as I don't have Princess buses going by," he said.

Lemon Creek resident Jim Wilcox Sr. said he was concerned about the city's involvement in building new heliports.

"We're talking millions and millions of dollars," he said.

But Rory Darling and Jan Moyer, who live on North Douglas and have been following the flight noise discussion for five years, said the study is conclusive and helps move the process along.

"I think just going forward with a positive solution more than studying it for years and years is worthwhile. This would give us some relief," Moyer said. "We're ready for an answer."

Darling added that the community needs to begin focusing on what sort of incentives are needed to encourage flightseeing operators to move.

Juneau Assembly members received the study Monday. Mayor Sally Smith said she is pleased with the report and is talking with staff members about the next step.

"I think it offers some reasonable opportunities to disperse the noise, but I think there are going to be some pretty serious considerations on the part of the city on how we are going to fund alternate heliports," she said. "This is really a need."

The report is available at the city's Web site, www.juneau.org, and city libraries. In addition, Capital Copy downtown has the complete study and can make copies.


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

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