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Court Faults FAA on Airport Near Zion Park

April 12, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Federal officials should have taken a closer look at the effect of increased air traffic over Zion National Park before approving plans for a new airport in St. George, Utah, appeals court judges said Thursday.

The Grand Canyon Trust environmental group had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington circuit to force the Federal Aviation Administration to perform an environmental impact study. The FAA had previously decided the new airport would not affect the pristine nature of Zion National Park.

The three-judge panel did not rule on the trust's request Thursday, but the judges had pointed criticism for the government's attorney, Ellen Durkee.

Durkee argued that an environmental impact statement is not necessary because there would only be a 2% increase in the 240 to 300 daily flights over the park if the new airport is approved. Such a small increase couldn't possibly be the straw that breaks the camel's back, spoiling the pristine nature of the park, she said.

"But that's where you're wrong," Judge David S. Tatel interrupted. "You don't know anything about the camel."

Tatel said the FAA hadn't considered the cumulative impacts of adding traffic to the existing flights. And the noise models used--while relevant for New York City or Washington--don't apply to a park environment.

The Park Service had also urged the FAA to consider those factors, noted Judge Harry T. Edwards.

"There's another government agency standing there with you that says you're completely wrong," Edwards told Durkee. The National Park Service has identified Zion National Park as one of nine parks nationally where restoring "natural quiet"--eliminating any human-caused noise--is an immediate priority.

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