March 11, 2016
To: Alaska State Parks
Regional Park Superintendent Jack Blackwell
Ref: Norse Flight, Inc. application for a permit for helicopter landings in Kachemak Bay State Park and Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park
Dear Mr. Blackwell;
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) understands that Alaska State Parks (ASP) is processing an application submitted by Norse Flight, Inc. for a permit to land at multiple locations within Kachemak Bay State Park and Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park (KBSP&KBSWP).
AQRC is dedicated to protecting the rights of Alaskans to quiet places for the benefit of public land users, home and cabin owners, communities, businesses, wildlife, visitors, and future generations.
Alaska’s natural beauty, wildness, wildlife, expanses of undisturbed open space, and peace and quiet are among its most cherished values, and Alaskans, our visitors, and future generations have the right to experience the natural sights, sounds and quiet beauty of our state. In the vast majority of cases obtrusive noise is incompatible with special natural experiences and with quality wildlife habitat.
Unfortunately, though, natural quiet and the opportunity to hear and enjoy natural sounds are increasingly hard to find in our state—a fact which would surprise the great majority of non-residents for whom Alaska is a potent symbol of the natural and the wild, not of noisy mechanization. Although there are many places in Alaska that look the same as they did 100 or more years ago, very few sound as they did only 10 or 20 years earlier.
Consequently, not only do we need to protect those quiet areas that still remain, but we need to restore many previously quiet lands to their former, more natural, more pristine condition. Most of us, until quite recently, took the restorative quiet of the outdoors for granted. We assumed that the backcountry would always provide a quiet refuge from the noise, busyness and artificiality of our towns and cities. That assumption, to our great chagrin, has proven to be false. We now know that natural quiet and natural sounds require our—the public, and the public’s stewards, the land managers—constant vigilance if they’re to survive even into the middle of our present century.
AQRC has reviewed the application that Norse Flights, Inc. has submitted to ASP for the purpose of obtaining a permit authorizing them to make helicopter landings in KBSP&KBSWP. AQRC believes that such an application should be put on hold until the KBSP&KBSWP revised management plan, that is still going through the developmental stage, is completed. It would be premature for ASP’s to make a decision whether a helicopter operation is desirable or not or to write specific operating stipulations before the plan is completed and the public has had an opportunity to approve or object to helicopter flightseeing landings in these parks. The public process of developing the management plan and the statutory purposes for which each the park was established must be carefully worked through before any such permit is given any review. Only after the management plan is completed should the ASP’s begin processing any new applications for commercial activities within KBSP&KBSWP. We are particularly concerned about this permit being processed now since the public is not being invited to comment on this application.
This is particularly important for a business such as Norse Flight, Inc. While new technology has reduced how loud helicopters are they still produce plenty of disruptive noise. Helicopter noise is obtrusive to backcountry wilderness endeavors. Studies of shown that helicopter activity is detrimental to mountain goats. Helicopter noise can carry well beyond their actual flight path and landing zone. The sound of helicopter flights totally changes the on the ground experience for park visitors. The more flights there are per day the more noise episodes that are produced. Flightseeing in some parts of Alaska have reached such numbers that there are seldom any quiet times on good weather days.
The heli-skiing permits were put on hold in Dec. 2012 with the issue to be decided when the management plan was revised. We assume that postponement was made because of the amount of public comment against heli-skiing and receipt of competing permit applications without a basis on which to choose/select which to permit. What is the basis for considering this situation to be different when there are already two air taxi services authorized to use helicopters and no overall policy in place for heli-tourism?
Secondly, because of the fact that two helicopter companies have already been authorized, shouldn’t ASP’s at a minimum be considering this permit request under the competitive permit regulations at 11 AAC18.040?
The management plan now being developed should carefully evaluate the impacts of helicopters ( and fixed wing, jet skis, snowmachines and other noisy access and recreational vehicles) and guide future use patterns that will protect the natural sound scape and wilderness values within KBSP&KBSWP.
Please delay processing Norse Flight, Inc. application until the KBSP&KBSWP management plan is complete. It is very important that an activity such as commercial helicopter flights and landings is carefully and thoroughly thought out through a coordinated planning process in which the public is allowed to participate.
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition, President