Eatonville council voices opposition to national park air tour plan

The Eatonville Town Council, at its Sept. 13 meeting, made its displeasure known regarding the draft of the Air Tour Management Plan for Mount Rainier National Park in the form of Resolution 2021-II, objecting to the fact the town was not provided the opportunity to weigh in on the draft plan, which could end up having a negative impact on the town’s economy.

The plan is meant to minimize disturbances to the park’s natural sounds and lessen disruptions to wildlife.

“I just think it’s a very arbitrary and capricious plan they threw together at the last minute and made it look good,” Councilmember Robert Thomas said.
As an example, he cited a requirement in the draft that states, “Noise from a fixed wing aircraft at 2,000 ft. AGL (Cessna 206B, 57.4 decibels (dB) Lmax) is below the sound-only injury threshold of 92 dB for northern spotted owls.”

He compared such noise requirements to the sound levels of a typical office environment.

“So, again, what this effectively does is it knocks down the small businessman out of an opportunity to do commercial tours,” Thomas said.

The plan as written, he said, could end up having a wider economic impact.

“I think this is an economic opportunity that we need to preserve for the Town of Eatonville because it has a trickle-down effect throughout the whole town’s economy: restaurants, hotels, whatever else we have,” Thomas said.

His final verdict on the draft: “It’s a useless piece of legislation.”

The National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration draft Air Tour Management Plan would create new training standards, as well as limit commercial flights around the park to once-per-year on a pre-determined route during the late morning and early afternoon. Pilots would also be limited to how low they can fly and incentivized to fly quieter aircraft.

In May 2021, a federal judge ordered the NPS and FAA to complete their air tour plans for some two dozen parks within the next two years, including Mount Rainier National Park.

The goal is for each park to complete their air tour plans by the end of August 2022.

In a pair of resolutions not on the agenda, the council voted to create an ad hoc committee regarding the clean-up of a long-abandoned landfill leased from Weyerhaeuser Co. that was used by the town for three decades, from 1950 through 1980, and to make Councilmember Bill Dunn chair of that committee.

The council passed a resolution setting the agenda for the Sept. 20 virtual Zoom meeting of the Planning Commission: a commercial review of Chapter 19, Design Standards and Guidelines, of the Eatonville Municipal Code.


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