The following article is from the National Parks Magazine, Jan-Feb 1999.


Parks Suffer Airport Onslaught Growth in air travel puts pressure on national park resources. By Katurah Mackay

WASHINGTON, D.C. - While NPCA continues its battle against commercial air tours over national parks, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has presented at least seven other proposals to expand or construct major airports near national park units across the country. NPCA recently worked on an air tour overflights provision that was incorporated in Senate legislation last year. It required FAA to cooperate with the Park Service in developing management plans in parks where overflights could occur. This legislation, however, does not regulate the operations of large commercial airports just outside parks or the large jet overflights they produce, a menace to park wildlife and natural tranquillity. The air tour issue is expected to be addressed in the new Congress.

One of the most contentious of FAA's airport proposals involves Hawaii's Kahului Airport. NPCA recently filed a petition with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for review of FAA's approved project to expand Kahului Airport outside Haleakala National Park (see News, July/August 1998). Unlike the threat of noise or adjacent development, non-native plants and insects, reptiles, and viruses are examples of species carried by international planes that have taken a slow, insidious toll on the Hawaiian islands' biodiversity. More native species have been driven to extinction on Hawaiian islands than in any other state in the United States And in most places in the world as a direct result of alien species introduced by human activity.

In the continental United States, myriad other airport proposals threaten to violate the natural quiet found in national parks and disturb adjacent viewsheds. One new airport alone, the St. George Municipal Airport, proposed for St. George, Utah, has the potential to affect six national park units Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion national parks, Cedar Breaks and Pipe Spring national monuments, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. "All six of these parks are famous for the solitude and tranquillity that visitors can readily find within their borders," says Mark Peterson, NPCA's Rocky Mountain regional director. "But any could be compromised by various approach and departure patterns and altitude parameters permitted by this new airport."

A new airport has been proposed for Hulett, Wyoming, a small town located only seven miles from Devil's Tower National Monument. The monument is used by American Indians regularly as a sacred site. NPCA argues that a nearby airport would increase the number of existing sight-seeing air tours and allow noise from large commercial aircraft and private planes to intrude on the solitude that visitors typically seek in a national park.

NPCA maintains that the draft environmental assessment for the Hulett Airport completed by FAA fails to comply with the National Park Service Organic Act, sections of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the spirit and intent of the National Environmental Policy Act. Other airport proposals threatening national parks include:

TAKE ACTION: One effective way NPCA members can counter these expansion proposals is by writing letters to your senators and congressional representatives. Mention the issues raised above, emphasize the importance of passing strict overflights legislation in the 106th Congress, and urge that any changes in airport operations be designed to protect national park resources. Address: Sen.____, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510; or Rep.____, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.

© National Parks and Conservation Association

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