Candidates for the Juneau Assembly say new information about alternative heliports in Juneau is a step in the right direction, but see a need for more discussion before changes are made.
A report prepared for the city and released this week recommends helicopter flightseeing be moved to heliports at Dupont, south of Thane, and Montana Creek in the Mendenhall Valley.
Randy Wanamaker, an environmental assessor and a candidate for the District 2 seat, said the city will need to work with the neighborhoods, the industry and regulatory agencies to find agreement on what to do next.
"I think we're headed in the right direction in developing options in what to consider," he said. "I think it's worth exploring. Tourism is with us for the long term ... and we need to have a better way of managing issues like flight noise and traffic control."
District 2 candidate Clancy DeSmet, a project review coordinator with the Alaska Coastal Management Program, said he thinks Dupont is a good spot for a heliport, but there isn't a road to the site. Heliports should be put where they have a minimal effect on residents and many people live near Montana Creek, he added.
"Band-Aid fixes aren't really working right now. It is a problem. It bothers people and at the same time it's part of our economy," he said. "I just know we have to keep participating in the public process with the federal government. They'll listen. It's not a done deal."
District 2 candidate Dixie Hood, a therapist and mediator, said the community needs to reassess the frequency of helicopter flights and routes. She'd like to see additional test flights at Montana Creek to give people a better idea of what the effect might be. A Montana Creek heliport could concentrate helicopter traffic over campgrounds, trails and Forest Service land where things are quiet now, she said.
"I think there were some positive aspects in terms of creating corridors rather than having (routes) criss-crossing over the borough," she said.
District 1 candidate and real estate broker Jeannie Johnson said the study is a step in the right direction although there are neighborhood concerns and access questions that will need to be addressed. The heliports will be similar to "mini-airports" and planning for fuel, hangars and other facilities will be needed, she said.
"That takes a lot of planning once you even get through the neighborhood issues," she said.
Tony Reiger, a salesman, retired teacher and a candidate for the District 1 seat, said he supports the idea of looking at alternative heliports, but would want to seek input from neighborhood residents. The helicopter companies have been good about coming to the table and negotiating, he said.
"I feel good about the process we've reached to do this. Studying the alternatives is an important part of the process," he said.
Chuck Collins, a small business owner and candidate for the areawide seat, said he is optimistic about the city's work on the flightseeing noise issue. At a forum sponsored by Juneau's neighborhood associations on Wednesday, he said he would take an active approach to neighborhood issues.
"I would probably get in my truck and go out there and try to put myself in your shoes. The most important thing is to get out there and try to put your hands on it," he said.
Jim Powell, an environmental and natural resources specialist who is running for re-election to the areawide seat, has suggested both nonregulatory and regulatory approaches be used to deal with flightseeing noise. The industry has worked hard to reduce noise and more needs to be done, he said.
"Heliports are not a silver bullet, but they do provide an option to really examine," he said. "I'm very optimistic that we can use these alternative heliport sites, but it has to be in careful balance with neighborhood concerns. We need to go through the public process."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.