DIA jets roar over a Colorado wilderness

  • Indian Peaks in the Colorado Rockies

 

BOULDER, Colo. - Some environmentalists have started firing political flak at noisy commercial jets flying over a wilderness area west of here.

The local Sierra Club mailed a letter this summer to federal and Denver International Airport officials complaining about the wilderness overflights. So far, the letter has been largely ignored.

The problem took off on Feb. 28, 1995, the day Denver International Airport opened. Westbound airliners started flying over 13,502-foot North Arapaho Peak in the middle of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Passenger jets out of DIA's predecessor, Stapleton Airport, flew over Rollins Pass just south of Indian Peaks.

Between 30 and 50 DIA jets pass over the 74,000-acre wilderness daily, according to critics and the Federal Aviation Administration. Most of the jets are "throttling up" to their cruising altitude of about 28,000 feet. Over Indian Peaks, they're at 18,000 to 22,000 feet, low enough and loud enough for hikers to hear them.

"Having experienced the backcountry both before and after DIA, I can say it's much worse since DIA went in," said Jeff Charlebois, executive director of the Indian Peaks Working Group. The Sierra Club's letter called for raising the minimum flight elevation over the mountains to its previous 26,000 to 28,000 feet and shifting the flight path back to its original course.

But the FAA says it regulates for aircraft efficiency and safety, not aesthetics. It doesn't plan to change the flight path. "We have never moved a route for environmental reasons," said an FAA official who requested anonymity.

Some activists have talked about filing a class-action lawsuit because the DIA environmental impact statement failed to address noise impacts on the wilderness and nearby communities. But that idea faces more turbulence: A six-year statute of limitations exists for filing such a suit. The environmental study was released in August 1989 - six years and one month ago.

David Hatcher writes in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about airline noise, contact DIA, 303/342-2361; the FAA, 303/286-1501; the Indian Peaks Working Group, 303/443-4543; or the Sierra Club, 303/449-5595. To file a DIA noise complaint, call 303/342-2380.

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