AZ Republic – Congress must not derail anti-noise plan

Congress must not derail anti-noise plan

Mar. 1, 2012

The Republic |

After years of work, and decades of delay, the National Park Service is about to adopt a plan to manage aircraft noise at the Grand Canyon.

Bright Angel Point trail - Grand Canyon North Rim

Bright Angel Point trail - Grand Canyon North Rim (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Congress must not derail it.

The 1987 National Park Overflights Act called for the substantial restoration of natural quiet at the Grand Canyon.

Now, with that goal in sight, a proposed amendment to the Senate surface transportation bill would throw the process off track. It would change the wording of the 1987 law — setting the stage for years of litigation and yet more delay.

Sen. John McCain is sponsoring this measure. And Sen. Jon Kyl has signed on as a co-sponsor. So have Nevada’s Dean Heller and, making this a bipartisan misconcieved idea, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Why such high interest in Nevada? Air tours to the Grand Canyon happen to be big business in Las Vegas.)

This is their second effort. In 2010, when since-resigned John Ensign was Reid’s Senate mate, the four Arizona and Nevada senators proposed an end-run around the planning process. That legislation was ultimately withdrawn. This one should be dropped, too.

The National Park Service released its draft environmental document last year. The “preferred alternative” strikes a well-calibrated balance between reduced noise and opportunities for air tours. It would allow up to 65,000 air tours a year, 8,000 more than the total when the plan was written. It includes changes in routes and altitudes, plus at least one hour of quiet time before sunset and after sunrise.

The park service received nearly 30,000 comments from individuals and organizations. The final plan, which will likely be tweaked in response to some of those concerns, will be out this spring. Then the Federal Aviation Administration will consider the plan for safety issues.

McCain’s office says the proposed amendment would incentivize quiet technology and address FAA safety concerns. The plan, however, includes incentives for quiet technology that don’t conflict with the goal of reducing noise. The FAA’s concerns can and should be worked out in the final stages of the plan.

The majesty of the Grand Canyon includes the chance to experience natural quiet. The swish of wind through pines and the rush of the Colorado River echoing up the trail are valuable resources that need protection, just as archaeological sites do. We are so close to achieving that protection. Congress should not change the rules of the game in the very last minutes of play.

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