The Town Council has authorized Town Manager Grady Miller to seek help in lobbying the FAA as it considers modifying the flight paths for planes in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
The $30,000 Miller asked to work with is within his spending authority without council approval, however, he said he wanted the council to be aware of the situation and said he was giving consideration to council sensitivity to expenses.
The discussion follows a letter Mayor Ginny Dickey sent to FAA officials dated May 22, weighing in on Scottsdale City Council approval of tracks proposed by a consultant hired by that city.
“Scottsdale’s preferred modification would have much less adverse impact on the Town [of Fountain Hills] and its surrounding areas,” Dickey wrote, “including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, a pristine public recreation area that drives tourism to the area and serves the residents of the town.
“The town supports and endorses Scottsdale’s preferred modification.”
However, JDA, Aviation Technology Solutions, a firm hired by the city to represent its interests with the FAA, also offered an “acceptable” flight path modification, which Dickey said was not supported by the Town of Fountain Hills.
“This modification would, according to the report received by the Scottsdale City Council, move approximately two-thirds of Sky Harbor east flow departure traffic over Fountain Hills and surrounding areas and may have other significant adverse impacts,” Dickey said.
“The town opposes the latter modification as proposed, and the town likewise opposes any modification that would significantly increase air traffic over Fountain Hills and surrounding areas.
“This or any such proposal would dramatically increase the noise and frequency of air traffic over the town, potentially decrease property values, and decrease quality of life and attractiveness of the town that has made the town a focal point of tourism and events since its founding.”
The JDA plan preferred by Scottsdale and supported by Fountain Hills keeps east departing air traffic over the Salt River until it is past the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation boundary where traffic heads north before diverging either east or west to the flight destination.
The current modifications by the FAA stem from a lawsuit filed after changes made in 2014. The suit was filed by the City of Phoenix and residents living west of the airport. The court ordered the FAA to address those issues, which would not necessarily impact traffic to the east of the airport.
Scottsdale became involved in the process based on complaints concerning aircraft noise from residents in North Scottsdale, north and east of the city’s own airport.
Miller said one reason Fountain Hills was late in responding to the proposed changes is that they did not think there was an impact.
“Really, our position with the FAA would be to maintain the status quo,” Miller said.
Councilman David Spelich asked whether the town might discuss the issue with Congressman David Schweikert, a Fountain Hills resident.
Miller said that is an option but reminded the council that Schweikert’s district includes Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and parts of North Phoenix. He said everyone might not be on the same page.
In early May, U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) wrote the FAA and urged it “to establish and continue dialogue with elected leaders represented communities affected by eastbound flight procedures…to find alternatives.”
Her comments specifically mentioned Fountain Hills and Rio Verde, as well as Scottsdale.
Miller said he also believes U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) has spoken on behalf of the communities.
Town officials have indicated they have not heard from the FAA during this process.