ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Concerned about the peace and quiet of this scenic venue being disturbed by low-flying aircraft, park officials are working on an air tour management plan that would regulate the ability of planes and helicopters to operate above and near the park.
John Kelly, park planner for Acadia, said Friday that the park is trying to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to establish rules for how planes and helicopters will be allowed to enter the park’s airspace. He said the park would like to have a buffer zone that would extend a half-mile out from the park’s boundaries and 5,000 feet up into the air from park land.
“It’s really a noise issue,” Kelly said. “It’s not to prohibit air tours. It’s to manage them.”
Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in nearby Trenton is where the known sightseeing air tours operate from, Kelly said. The air approaches to and from the airport are regulated by the FAA and would be exempt from any restrictions set by the proposed plan.
Kelly said the issue of air traffic over national parks is more of a concern in other states, but remains a big concern for Acadia nonetheless. He said it is such a concern that in 2000, Congress enacted a law requiring the FAA to work with the National Park Service on air tour management plans for national parks nationwide.
Kelly said that he is unaware of any increase in air traffic over Acadia in recent years but that it has been steady. One reason the park wants to get such a plan approved is to make sure there are rules in place before such flights over Acadia become more frequent.
“Our concern is to stay ahead of the issue and not let it become a severe problem,” he said.
As for when such rules might be in place, Kelly said getting the plan approved by 2011 would be “remarkable.” He said it is more likely that the plan would go into effect in 2012.
“There’s no way next summer you would see any type of change,” Kelly said.
Air tours that offer sightseers a bird’s-eye view of the park and surrounding scenery on Mount Desert Island are not the only cause for concern, according to local officials. Last summer, a low-flying airplane that was towing a banner advertising the Hollywood Slots casino in Bangor elicited grumbles of disapproval as it flew low over Bar Harbor and Acadia.
Stephanie Clement of the park advocacy group Friends of Acadia said Friday that such activity in the park’s airspace needs to be regulated in order to preserve the park’s natural environment.
“Friends of Acadia thinks that the airspace around Acadia National Park is incredibly important to the visitor experience here,” Clement said. “We would like to see an air tour management plan move forward so that all parties can agree [on] how the airspace should be managed and what limits are acceptable.”
Dana Reed, Bar Harbor’s town manager, said Thursday that the town has a ban on airborne advertising in order to protect the town’s quality of life, but that it is not just banner advertising that the town wants to prevent. People come to Bar Harbor to enjoy the scenery and relative quiet, he said, but loud, buzzing aircraft tend to interfere.
For the same reason, he said, the town has ordinances to crack down on noisy houses, dogs and taverns.
“You wouldn’t be able to drive a car through town without a muffler,” Reed said. “It makes noise pollution.”
Reed said that, anecdotally, he has heard more negative comments this year about such air traffic over Bar Harbor than in previous years.
Nate Young, Bar Harbor’s police chief, said Thursday that after the Hollywood Slots banner was flown over town in late August, one of his officers contacted the operator and told him about the local law. He said that, as far as he knows, the banner has not appeared over MDI since.
“Years ago we had a problem with [planes towing advertising banners] but we haven’t had one in a long time,” Young said.
Young said his department received only two official complaints this summer about low-flying aircraft, but that he has heard a fair number of informal comments that have characterized such planes as being a nuisance. But, he added, that doesn’t mean most local residents want all low-flying aircraft banned from MDI. “There’s other people who would argue it’s a good thing,” Young said.