Grand Canyon Restrictions Stopped

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Some last-minute political maneuvering by Nevada and Arizona congressmen from both sides of the aisle has stopped the National Parks Service from imposing more restrictive anti-noise regulations on air tour operators in Grand Canyon National Park. The Parks Service wanted to introduce rules that would have resulted in the "substantial restoration of natural quiet" to the park by limiting flights in such a way that two-thirds of the park would have been free of audible aircraft 75 to 100 percent of the time. It also would have encouraged operators to buy quieter aircraft by allowing them more flights in those aircraft. Aviation groups were concerned about the proposed regulations on philosophical grounds in that they would have effectively given the Parks Service control over airspace. But the politicians who banded together to shoot down the initiative had more practical concerns.

About 1,250 people work in the air tour business in Arizona and Nevada and the Parks plan was seen as a threat to the continued employment of at least some of them. Rep. Paul Gosar, who led the legislative effort, said the bill, which essentially maintains current flight frequencies and routes, prevents and "unwarranted assault" on the air tour industry, noting that operators are voluntarily investing in quieter aircraft and taking other steps to minimize the impact of noise in the park. "I am pleased to end the war on those rural Arizona jobs," he said in a statement. But environmentalists and conservation groups say it's the park that's under attack and they're appalled at the political sleight of hand that occurred. "This bill means that the Grand Canyon is going to stay noisy from air tours, and it's a good example of the effects of money on politics when you look at the stealth way that this was done," said Rob Smith, senior organizing manger for the Sierra Club in Phoenix. "The Grand Canyon is one of the 10 natural wonders of the world. It shouldn't sound like an airport."