Helicopter glacier landing permits challenged

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Three groups have appealed a U.S. Forest Service decision to permit more than 19,000 helicopter glacier landings near Juneau this year.

Cruise Control, Lynn Canal Conservation, and the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club want the agency to reverse the decision because an environmental assessment was still under way when Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin issued the permit in November.

Griffin said the agency hoped to have an environmental impact statement on the helicopter noise issue completed by late spring 2001, but said that would be too late for the 2001 tourist season.

''Griffin wants to extend the current environmental impact statement, and we want the Forest Service to understand that in proceeding without an environmental assessment, he's in error,'' said the Sierra Club's Mark Rorick.

Rorick said he had gone through an inch-thick Forest Service file of citizens comments about flightseeing noise and that any reasonable person seeing the file would conclude that something needs to be done.

Griffin referred questions about the appeal to Forest Service regional personnel. Tongass spokesman Mike Weber said Thursday a ruling on the appeal would be issued within a week.

Rorick said Griffins decision ignored the Tongass Land Management Plans guidelines for recreation and tourism.

Much of the permit area is categorized as semi-primitive and for non-motorized use where people should expect to experience solitude and not be subjected constantly to the motorized world, Rorick said.

According to the appeal, current standards allow for a maximum of 10 landings per day at glacier sites, and then only if compatible with the objectives of the area. But the appeal says Griffins order allows 7,354 landings at the Norris glacier and a similar number at the Herbert glacier, which works out to more than 50 daily landings at each of the two sites.

The actual annual number of glacier landings by the four competing helicopter companies for the past several years has been 16,000 to 17,000, according to the Forest Service.

The last environmental impact statement on helicopter operations was based on 1995 information and expired in 1999, said Juneau attorney Deborah Vogt, who helped write the appeal.

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