Alternative heliport issue up for discussion by Juneau Assembly

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2001

Juneau Assembly members plan to lead a community discussion about alternative heliports this winter.

The issue has been assigned to the Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee, chairman Dale Anderson said. Results of a new heliport study will be combined with the city's long-range tourism plan, due out this spring, he said.

"Before we call it complete, we want to have an opportunity for the public and the industry to respond to the findings. Those responses will be part of the permanent record," he said.

In September, a city-sponsored study recommended helicopter companies move all tours to heliports at Montana Creek and Dupont, south of Thane, to limit noise. The change would reduce the number of homes under flight paths from 6,037 to zero, although some noise still would be audible, according to the study. Sites at Sheep Creek and the Mendenhall Glacier also made the final list.

The West Mendenhall Valley Neighborhood Association and Juneau Neighbors, a coalition of Juneau neighborhood associations, sent letters to the mayor last month asking for information about where the heliport issue is headed. The groups wanted to know what the heliports will look like, how they will be operate, where the funding will come from and who will have authority over them, among other questions.

Robert Spitzfaden, a member of the West Mendenhall Valley Neighborhood Association, said the group hasn't formed a formal opinion about the heliport plan. It is waiting for the city to respond to the list of questions first, he said.

"We're willing to keep an open mind and take a hard look once the city answers the questions," he said. "We hope the city would answer the 50 questions soon, or admit they can't."

At an Assembly meeting last week, Thane Neighborhood Association treasurer Sally Bibb asked the city for time to thoroughly survey residents about the heliport issue.

The association quickly polled residents about the possibility of extending Thane Road 1 1/2 miles to a Dupont heliport, Bibb said. Of 58 responses, 48 strongly opposed extending Thane Road, she said.

While flightseeing companies may prefer a road for construction and fuel truck access, boats could be used to ferry passengers to a Dupont heliport site, the study suggests.

Anderson said groups will have adequate time to survey residents. The city will be answering the questions posed by the neighborhood associations over the next few months, he said.

"We'll start looking at those questions now and attempt to have those answers by the time the long-range plan is done," he said.

The Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee meets Nov. 19. Tourism, downtown waterfront issues, developing the Capitol complex and coordinating the city's tourism plans will be areas of focus this year, Anderson said.

The U.S. Forest Service is working on a final environmental impact statement that will set the number of helicopter landings on the Juneau Icefield. The report is due out in January or February, according to Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin. Representatives from the Forest Service and the city need to sit down to discuss the heliport study and how it fits into the Forest Service analysis, he said.

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



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