“We are identifying stakeholders and conducting interviews through the month of October,” said Michael Eng, senior program manager at the U.S. Institute. “The government is basically at that point now, where we’ve formally kicked off the very beginning stages of the stakeholder involvement process.”
They are doing that with the help of the Tucson-based institute and its independent contractor Lucy Moore. Moore and her associates will spend the next few months meeting with representatives of known stakeholder groups, such as local tribes, air tour associations and environmental groups. Eng said they are also working to identify other stakeholder groups that may not have yet been represented.
Eng said mediators have a starting list of known stakeholders, but said that it will evolve as the process moves forward.
“Primarily she’s been interviewing about 35 or 40 folks who have been recommended as articulate representatives of particular interest groups,” he said.
He encourages those who have a stake in the process but haven’t been contacted yet to get in touch with Moore.
“It’s possible we have other people that we haven’t identified yet that we should talk to,” he said.
According to Ken McMullen, Overflights and Natural Soundscapes Program Manager at Grand Canyon, involving the U.S. Institute represents a new approach to resolving the ongoing wrangling over flight rules.
“The process that we introduced at this meeting is new, that is the alternative dispute resolution process,” he said. “That was the purpose of the meeting, to bring everyone on board with the process.”
Eng and McMullen said the mediation process is already well under way between the FAA, DOI and NPS.
“The agencies believed they couldn’t come to an effective solution without the involvement of the stakeholders,” Eng said. “But they didn’t think it was appropriate to bring in external stakeholders until they got things squared away. First they wanted clarification and to make sure they were on the same page of what they were trying to accomplish.”
One of the differences between agencies was how to model the noise. The agencies agreed that models would be necessary as it would be impossible to make an actual real-time, long-term assessment of overflight noise in the park. They disagreed, however, on which model to use.
“They had different ways of approaching the modeling of noise,” said Eng. “Each had their favorite model. It’s a whole new area of scientific exploration and up until now, the FAA was the preeminent expert on modeling noise.”
Their models, however, were designed for urban airport environments. Meanwhile the Park Service has been working with consultants to develop models geared toward wilderness environments and the concept of “natural quiet.”
According to McMullen, the two models are being reviewed with assistance from the Federal Investigative Committee on Aircraft Noise.
“They’ll be coming out at the end of the month (November) with a recommendation on what models are best used for Grand Canyon,” he said.
Eng said the agencies are also working on “more mundane kinds of decisions,” such as how the two agencies will work together in their separate decision-making capacities.
McMullen said that if things move smoothly, noise measuring should start next spring using the chosen model with data collection taking at least two years.
At the same time, Eng said, stakeholder groups will be engaged in discussions while the general public will be able to comment through the NEPA process when that gets under way.
Ultimately the process will be shaped by its participants, Eng said.
“It may not be clear-cut that we go forward or not,” he said. “One of our purposes is to build broad support for a solution and minimize the likelihood that it will be litigated. If a key stakeholder or tribe doesn’t want to participate, we might have to stop and see what the implications of that would be.”
Throughout the process, the U.S. Institute will oversee the work of Lucy Moore and her team of mediators. Eng said that while they were engaged by the FAA and DOI, the mediators are answerable to the Institute and to all the stake holders.
“They are not just looking out for the agency interest,” Eng said. “They have responsiblities to all parties involved and affected.”
To contact the U.S. Institute, call 520-670-5299 or visit www.ecr.gov.