Mediator ends flight-noise talks

Open meetings rulings, icefield permits blamed

Posted: Monday, December 18, 2000

Flight-noise mediator Lois Schwennesen has called it quits.

"The design team succeeded in agreeing on issues but was unable to agree on ground rules despite an eleventh-hour effort to reach compromise," she said in a news release this morning. Schwennesen is a consultant with Triangle Associates, a public-policy and environmental-mediation firm hired by the U.S. Forest Service and the city in April to bring flight-tour operators and citizens' groups together to find solutions to flight-tour generated noise.

Mediation panel members represent a number of constituencies, including conservation, fixed-wing aircraft operators, helicopter operators, city business interests, two citizens' groups, the cruise lines, the city and the U.S. Forest Service.

Three other conditions kept the mediation from going forward, Schwennesen said:

The state Open Meetings Act prevents executive sessions for discussion of private business issues when the city is involved.

Trust has eroded between most of the design team members and the Peace and Quiet Coalition, one of the citizens' groups on the panel.

A Forest Service decision to issue the 2001 helicopter landings allocations shifted the balance of power at the table. The agency in November decided to keep the number of permitted landings at 19,039, this year's level.

Peace and Quiet Coalition representative Kim Metcalfe-Helmar disagreed with at least one of Schwennesen's conclusions.

"The problem isn't open meetings; the problem is noise," she said this morning.

The panel never really talked about less noise, she said. And panel members seldom talked with each other, either.

"The communication was always through Schwennesen," she said. "This has been a real bad experience with Triangle."

Schwennesen, however, cited problems with Metcalfe-Helmar's group.

Misinformation from the Peace and Quiet caucus representatives "that they represented the general public, not those who voted for the (noise-abatement) initiative (last fall), complicated the task of other public representatives sitting at the table," Schwennesen said.

For mediation on flightseeing issues to succeed, the Peace and Quiet Coalition "should withdraw from participation," she said. In addition, the Forest Service should continue to work to regain the public trust that was eroded by its surprise announcement about permitted 2001 glacier helicopter landings.

It would be "absurd" to exclude the Peace and Quiet Coalition from future mediation, Metcalfe-Helmar said. "Right now, we want to get back together with the mayor and the assembly to find out if there's a way to resolve the noise problem before the next season. This isn't going away."

Wings of Alaska President Bob Jacobson, representing the fixed-wing-aircraft operators on the panel, said he would be "truly disappointed" if this were the end of mediation efforts.

"I remain hopeful," he said. "I think what the Forest Service and the city tried to do is an honorable thing."

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