Lawsuit Says FAA Environmental Analysis of Airport Did Not
Adequately Estimate Noise Impact on Zion National Park


APRIL 4, 2001
ST. GEORGE, UTAH

An environmental organization yesterday challenged a Federal Aviation Administration decision to allow the city of St. George, near Zion National Park, to proceed with a replacement airport. Grand Canyon Trust officials filed a petition for review of the FAA’s release of a final environmental assessment, record of decision, and finding of no significant impact for the replacement airport. The Trust filed the petition in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.

The petition states that the federal agency did not do an adequate job of analyzing noise impacts to Zion National Park. Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center in Taos, N.M., the Trust is seeking a cumulative impact analysis of the impacts the airport expansion would have on the region, particularly impacts on Zion National Park’s resources and visitors.

"We do not believe that the FAA fully consulted with Zion National Park officials," said Tom Robinson, Trust director of government affairs. "This lack of consultation with the very people most knowledgeable about the Park’s resources has led to the incorrect conclusion that Zion will not be impacted by a huge expansion in regional air traffic."

The Trust submitted a letter to FAA regional administrator, Lawrence Andriesen, stressing the need for this coordination and cooperation with Zion National Park staff and urging the FAA to look again at issues such as cumulative impacts, including impacts on Zion National Park’s natural soundscape.

“We’re not opposed to a new airport in St. George,” said James McMahon, southwestern Utah director for the Grand Canyon Trust. “We do support the preservation of natural quiet within Zion. This protection is called for in Senator John McCain’s National Parks Overflights Act of 2000.”

The Trust’s letter to the FAA stated that the agency’s final environmental assessment was inadequate. The Trust expressed concern “at the laxness with which the FAA continues to apply the law, administrative procedures, and its own ... policies regarding airport issues impacting national parks, of which the St. George airport is one example.”

McMahon sees it as the Trust’s responsibility to defend the integrity of Zion National Park. “If we don’t do it, no one will,” McMahon said.

St. George City Public Works Director Larry Bulloch disagrees. He said the environmental assessment document gave exhaustive attention to the noise issues relative to the replacement airport, probably more so than any other issue in the document. “The document clearly demonstrates that the noise impacts are insignificant, and I think anybody could judge for themselves the noise that would be created by an airport 25 miles away from Zion National Park,” Bulloch said.

The issue is really not the St. George Airport. It is an ongoing national debate regarding air space over national parks, Bulloch said. “As a city, we are quite disappointed a local project is being held hostage over an issue involving national air ways, which is something the City of St. George can do little about,” he said.

The fact they have not used some excellent data and science on the issue of noise shows there has been a major problem with lack of coordination between Zion National Park and the FAA, Grand Canyon Trust Director of Government Affairs Tom Robinson said. “We think this is an issue of mitigation, but you can’t mitigate until you know what the impacts are. And you can’t tell what the impacts are until you have done an accumulative impact study,” Robinson said.

Zion National Park Superintendent Marty Ott said he became aware Tuesday afternoon that Grand Canyon Trust was going to appeal the environmental assessment by the FAA. “Obviously, that is an action that they have decided to take, that is apart and separate from any position the National Park Service has or will take in this action,” Ott said.

“We don’t take issue at all, with why or where St. George wants to relocate its airport. That is a decision that is theirs to make. We don’t have a problem with that decision. What we don’t want to see happen, is the park become an airport approach or be used to hold airplanes as they await their turn to land. We just want to make sure the skies over the park don’t become any more crowded than they already are,” Ott said.