Not quite two weeks after the National Park Service released a compromise proposal to cut noise from tour flights over the Grand Canyon, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is making other plans.
McCain has introduced legislation that would likely deem the canyon quiet enough as-is, without the new flight limitations the Park Service is proposing.
The amendment, introduced this week, greatly restricts the definition of what is considered aircraft-related noise at the Grand Canyon and makes several other changes that would soften the Park Service's proposed restrictions across the board.
"We're really worried about it," said Bryan Faehner, a former park ranger who now works for the National Parks Conservation Association.
The bill would set back efforts to quiet the Grand Canyon that have been ongoing for more than 20 years, Faehner said.
"This would add years to the process of implementing the law. It would set back the clock," he said.
The National Park Service released a proposal on Feb. 2 to add 50 more air tours per day over the canyon, to a maximum of 364 if customers book them all.
But because the agency proposes to concentrate tour flights into a few seasonally louder zones, the plan adds more flights and still makes some parts of the canyon quieter.
The Park Service projected 67 percent of the Grand Canyon would be quiet for three-fourths of the day or longer under its recent plan, increased from today's 53 percent.
McCain's bill, by contrast, would require only half of the park to be free of noise for three-quarters of the time -- but only the sound of commercial air tours is counted. The Park Service includes sound produced by other planes (like commercial jetliners, private planes, or planes from Tusayan to Las Vegas) that aren't air tours.
The Park Service also proposed to make seasonal quiet zones over different parts of the canyon and prohibit flights in the hour after sunrise and before sunset.
Its proposal would allow about 65,000 air-tour flights annually.
McCain was also the main proponent behind the Overflights Act of 1987, which was drafted after 25 people where killed in a 1986 aircraft collision over the Grand Canyon.
The law read, in part, "Noise associated with aircraft overflights at the Grand Canyon National Park is causing a significant adverse effect on the natural quiet and experience of the park and current aircraft operations at the Grand Canyon National Park have raised serious concerns regarding public safety, including concerns regarding the safety of park users."
The law banned most aircraft from below the canyon's rims and said there should be "substantial restoration of the natural quiet and experience of the park."
The National Park Service at Grand Canyon declined comment Tuesday on McCain's bill.
McCain's spokeswoman stated that the amendment was intended to limit the Park Service's proposal and preserve tourism jobs, and that other lawmakers would be joining him.
"The preferred alternative the National Park Service has put forward is overreaching," McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan stated in an e-mail. "Senator McCain's amendment would simply codify the existing definition of natural quiet that has been in place for the past 17 years,"
Added Buchanan: "... An increase in regulations by the National Park Service could dramatically threaten tourism jobs and the tax base in northern Arizona."
Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at email@example.com.