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Borough to solicit bids for helicopter noise study


At the direction of the Haines Borough Assembly, manager David Sosa will begin soliciting bids for noise studies estimated to cost between $6,000 and $7,500 aimed at monitoring the impacts of a heliport near 26 Mile Haines Highway.

The assembly voted 5-1 to pursue bids for the studies, with assembly member Joanne Waterman opposed.

After Sosa and executive assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck conducted research into various methods for noise monitoring, Sosa recommended the assembly solicit bids for a “noise contour study,” which would provide a computer-generated model of sound levels surrounding the proposed heliport. This would cost about $5,000 to $6,000 and wouldn’t require a site visit, Sosa said.

Sosa also recommended a noise contour map showing background noise – tour buses, heavy equipment, snow machines – be pursued, at additional cost.

The study would also have a “ground truthing” element, to verify the computer-modeled numbers during actual operation and to monitor background noise for comparison’s sake. This would cost an additional $1,000 to $1,500, Sosa estimated.

In an interview after the meeting, Sosa said all of the components should come in at less than $10,000.

Initially several assembly members balked at the price tags presented by Sosa, with assembly member Dave Berry stating he was wary of funding such a study because of the precedent it would set for the issuance of future conditional use permits.

“I had not anticipated that this study was going to cost this much... At what point are we going to say enough is enough?” Berry said.

Assembly member Jerry Lapp also expressed skepticism about both the cost and the precedent, asking whether the borough would need to start conducting noise studies around gravel pits or for planes flying overhead. “I just don’t like where we’re going with this,” Lapp said.

While assembly member Debra Schnabel also said she didn’t anticipate the study being so “official,” she did state her support for the study and the associated expenditure. Schnabel said she initially thought a study would consist of selecting a group of people to go up to the proposed heliport location for a couple days to listen to helicopters.

Sosa said he considered the option of conducting the study in-house, but ruled it out because the perception of bias or subjectivity could emerge.

“Given the passions surrounding this issue, we wanted to ensure that we had someone external to the organization that was vetted so that people would accept the data and that we’d have effective data to use as opposed to data that could potentially be questioned,” Sosa said.

Waterman particularly opposed the background noise portion of the study, which would monitor nearby noise generated by anything from cars to chainsaws as a comparison for noise from the heliport. Waterman said comparing these two types of noises -- one generated by a use-by-right and one generated by a conditional use -- was “ridiculous.”

“I don’t think it’s right to compare those noises. I just don’t,” Waterman said.

The assembly recently overturned a borough planning commission decision and approved a conditional use permit for Big Salmon Ventures, sister company of heli-ski operator Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, to build a heliport at .6 Mile Chilkat Lake Road.

The permit comes with conditions including a one-year trial period and borough monitoring of noise impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.

Sosa noted in his report to the assembly that the FAA sets a threshold of 65 decibels for compatibility with residential use. He asked the assembly to discuss this and other standards further before authorizing spending for the study in order to determine how the data will be analyzed and evaluated.


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