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Sun, Aug. 09

Overflight group holds first meeting
Process to establish final rules for tour aircraft is moving ahead after delays

The newly formed Working Group of the National Parks Overflights Advisory Group met for the first time last week ­ another step forward in an 18-year process to regulate aircraft noise over Grand Canyon.

The meeting in Flagstaff on Wednesday and Thursday brought together officials from NPS and the Federal Aviation Administration along with 15 representatives for stakeholder groups that include the Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes; the air tour industry; private boaters; environmental groups and government agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Department and Department of Defense.

"The goal is to address a series of issues relative to overflight noise at Grand Canyon as directed in the original overflights act of 1987," said lead facilitator Lucy Moore.

Moore, of Lucy Moore Associates, is a mediation consultant contracted by the U.S. Institute for Environmental Policy Resolution, a government agency operated by the Morris K. Udall Foundation in Tucson.

Last week's meeting updated participants on the history of noise regulation efforts in the park and laid the groundwork for future discussions, said Ken McMullen, overflights and natural soundscapes program manager at Grand Canyon.

"They talked about what the rules were going to be, studied the protocols for working groups, set deadlines and a schedule, outlined the scope of work and finalized the protocols for conducting business," he said.

They also discussed how the public should be included in the process. Moore said they agreed not only to keep the meetings open to the public but to allow space in each one for public comment.

"The group felt that was important to hear, and to have them speak during a specified time at each meeting," she said.

They also set deadlines with the goal of having a final rule drafted in the first quarter of 2008.

"The final rule will address all of those things that the 2000 special flight rules address: air tour routes, incentive routes and curfews," she said. "All of those options are open relative to achieving substantial restoration of natural quiet at Grand Canyon."

They expect to have their the first noise assessment, based on data collected this summer, by mid- to late December.

"This summer we are collecting the natural ambient data that will be used in the modeling runs later this year," said McMullen. "Our first assessment of success for what we've put into place is probably in December."

Data collection was one of the issues that has stalled the process but after a year-long mediation process involving the U.S. Institute, the NPS and FAA came to an agreement last October on what noise model to use. Data being collected this summer and again in the winter will set a benchmark for ambient noise with the model predicting how that is impacted by established air traffic levels.

"That was a sticking point for a long time, what model was going to be used," Moore said. "The two agencies had differed on that subject but the fact that that got resolved was an important message to stakeholders."

The Grand Canyon Working Group was assembled by NPS and the FAA after they reopened discussions with the public last fall.

"Representatives were chosen through a nomination process that was fully advertised in the Federal Register," Moore said. "We considered all of the stake holder groups' interests in this issue. We have a very good representation."

She said that the group had to be kept to a manageable size of no more than 20. The four Indian tribes represented were the only four who showed an interest.

According to Moore, the group will meet quarterly with the next meeting planned for late October in Tusayan or Grand Canyon.

"What's important about this step toward resolution of these issues is that the agencies have agreed to work together and formed the working group together," she said. "They are coordinated in their approach to this and that has not always been the case."

Moore said that this stage of the process has gotten off to a good start.

"The tone was terrific," she said. "I was really pleased and impressed with the willingness of members on the working group who were meeting for the first time, some with a difficult history with each other and with the issues. They showed an impressive willingness to start fresh and work hard to communicate honestly with each other. Without the agencies demonstrating they can work together, it was pretty hopeless."

She said that while the working group has been assembled, the public can still have a voice in the process.

"If anyone feels that they don't have their interest represented, they are more than welcome to attend as observers and speak during permitted times," she said. "They can also communicate with me. I would be happy to hear from anyone who thinks something should be addressed."

Her e-mail address is lucymoore@nets.com. They may also contact Karen Trevino, Manager of Natural Sounds Program, National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colo., at 970-225-3563 or karen_trevino@nps.gov and Lynne Pickard, Senior Advisor for Environmental Policy, Federal Aviation Administration, Washington, D.C. at 202-267-3576 or lynne.packard@faa.gov.

More information on the ongoing overflights issue is available at http://overflights.faa.gov/.

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