The Juneau Assembly deserves praise for taking a position on the issue of helicopter landing tours.
Six alternatives have been outlined in the U.S. Forest Service's Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Helicopter Landing Tours on the Juneau Icefield (EIS).
For months District Ranger Pete Griffin has been seeking a sense of direction from the Juneau Assembly on the helicopter landing issue and he finally received his wish.
The compromise proposed by Assembly member Dale Anderson, alternative F(1), freezes the number of landings at 19,039 for the next two years and allows for modest growth in years 2004 through 2006. The proposal will be conveyed to the Forest Service in a letter from Mayor Smith.
After a debate on an amendment put forth by Assembly members Wheeler and Pillifant, Mayor Smith sought and received a unanimous vote on the proposal, noting, "This is a step in the right direction."
The CBJ's official policy on tourism reads: "It is the policy of the CBJ to encourage tourism, convention and other visitor-related activities through the development of appropriate facilities and services, while protecting Juneau's natural and cultural attractions for local citizens and visitors alike, and to participate in the accommodation of the future growth of tourism in a manner that addresses both community and industry concerns."
The Assembly's action Thursday night on flightseeing follows the spirit of this policy.
The results garnered so far from the city's Tourism Management Plan polls show that the community wants to see tourism grow, but wants to see the impact of noise and congestion reduced. Helicopter operators have worked hard to make adjustments to reduce noise in residential areas. More needs to be done. By insuring that their business will be allowed to grow in the future, they have a better incentive to justify the costly investment necessary to mitigate noise.
The Assembly now appears to be committed to seeing the satellite heliport plan through, which if completed in the next two years will further mitigate the noise problem. All of the locations under study for the satellite heliport would significantly reduce helicopter noise. The two-year freeze on helicopter landings will allow time for the heliport solution to be decided. Much debate lies ahead regarding the choice of location and the mechanism needed to fund the cost of this venture.
The Assembly has taken a very positive step forward in support of Juneau's tourism economy. In these uncertain times, it is assuring to know that we have an industry that offers a measure of stability to our future.