GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Nearly 10 years ago, when Congress set a national goal to restore natural quiet here, surveys indicated that only 43 percent of the park was unaffected by aircraft noise. Now only 31 percent of the park is considered quiet, defined as free from aircraft noise at least 75 percent of the time.
Although the 1987 regulations urged by Congress barred flights
below the canyon rim and over almost half the park, the sheer
number of trips has doubled in a decade. These days up to 15,000
tourists a month tour the canyon by air, nearly 1 million people a
year. The annual business generated by some 40 air-tour operators
is pegged at more than $200 million.
Arnberger, Grand Canyon superintendent since 1994, says the problem
is divided missions: "The FAA promotes commercial aviation and we
protect resources ... atural quiet is a resource." Arnberger says
what should be a partnership is hindered by the aviation agency's
insistence on dominance. "Working with them is worse than having a
root canal. The situation calls for action."
President Clinton seemed to agree, and on Earth Day last April he
ordered new regulations "to reduce noise immediately." He directed
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to write tougher rules to protect
Grand Canyon's quiet.
squabbling between Babbitt and Transportation Secretary Federico
Peûa reportedly required the intervention of Vice President Al
Gore and even President Clinton, the proposed rules emerged July
26. The Arizona Republic characterized them as "strong, unambiguous
They increase flight-free zones
from 45 percent of the park to 87 percent, although noise from the
planes will spread well beyond the flight-free zones; ban
commercial sightseeing flights from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. during the
summer and 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. during winter; and set a two-year cap
on the number of flights at the level established during the period
Aug. 1, 1995 to July 31, 1996.
But if the
Clinton team expected plaudits, they were in for disappointment.
Though conservation groups were pleased, air-tour operators were
not: "Clinton aviation plan spells air disaster in Grand Canyon,"
headlined a press release from their trade
Charged Jim Petty, president of Air
Vegas: "This proposal is absolute nonsense. Aircraft leave no
footprints, dump no trash, drop no burning cigarettes, require no
paved roads, create no traffic jams ... We simply fly over and
Rob Smith, Southwest representative for
the Sierra Club, criticized the proposals for sounding better than
they were. "While the cap is welcome, it will be set at flight
levels twice what they were when Congress decided there was too
much aircraft noise in 1987," he said.
criticisms came from Julie Galton Gale of Grand Canyon Trust, who
pointed out that flight-free zones were extended to an area that is
mostly flight-free already. "The proposed rule does not address the
core issue that there is too much noise in the park," Gale added.
"It concentrates the noise in smaller areas of the park that will
become sacrifice zones."
Even if the rule is
implemented in its present form after 60 days of public review and
comment, it is only the start, points out Arnberger: "Natural quiet
will be restored to 38 percent of the park vs. 31 percent today, a
far cry from the Park Service goal of 64 percent by 2015. There has
got to be a better process created to attain that goal than this
one. We will never get there with the system we have."
Sixty years ago, Zane Grey wrote of Grand
Canyon that "one feature of this ever-varying spectacle never
changes - its eternal silence."
The FAA will accept public
comment electronically on or before Sept. 30, 1996 at
NPRMCMTS@Mail.Hq.FAA.Gov. Docket Number 28537, or by mail to FAA
Office of Chief Counsel, Attention Rules Docket (AGC 200), Docket
28537, 800 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C. 20591. Letters
must be sent in triplicate.
Jim Bishop writes frequently about the Grand Canyon from Sedona,