New rules seek to cap canyon flights

 

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.

What happened?

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.

Rob Arnberger, Grand Canyon superintendent since 1994, says the problem is divided missions: "The FAA promotes commercial aviation and we protect resources ... natural 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.

After behind-the-scenes 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 and sensible."

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 group.

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 leave."

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.

Other 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."

Good writer. Lousy prophet.

The FAA will accept public comment electronically on or before Sept. 30, 1996 at [email protected] 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, Arizona.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.