Flightseeing Noise

Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A mediator hired to deal with the politically charged issue of aircraft noise in Juneau has quit, saying a panel representing the different interests couldn't even agree on ground rules.

Lois Schwennesen of Triangle Associates was hired by the U.S. Forest Service and the city of Juneau in April to help find solutions to the noise created by the booming flightseeing business.

Dozens of daily flights crowd the capital city's skies during the summer cruise ship season, rattling windows on houses overlooking Gastineau Channel and disturbing hikers on popular local trails.

Schwennesen cited three main problems that led her to quit on Monday:

--The state's open meetings law prevented closed-door meetings for discussion of private business issues. Schwennesen had objected to citizens' attempts to record meetings.

--Trust eroded between the rest of the panel -- including tour operators, cruise lines, and other citizens' groups -- and the Peace and Quiet Coalition, which sponsored an unsuccessful initiative to limit sightseeing flights.

--The Forest Service decided to allow the same number of helicopter landings on the Juneau Ice Field next year as it allowed this year, 19,039.

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. The panel never really talked about less noise, she said.

In turn, Schwennesen said the Peace and Quiet caucus' contention that they represented the general public, not just those who voted for the initiative, complicated the task of other public representatives. She suggested the Peace and Quiet Coalition should withdraw from participation to allow successful mediation.

Metcalfe-Helmar responded that it would be ''absurd'' to exclude the Peace and Quiet Coalition from future mediation, Metcalfe-Helmar said.

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