Put a price on 'natural quiet'
air routes with auctions

Sounding Board Editorial #14 (May 4, 2008)

Dennis Foster

     For some years now, there has been wrangling over the concept of "natural quiet" at the Grand Canyon.  Of course, it doesn't mean quiet.  Rather, it means the absence of man-made noise, which is, apparently, quite offensive to some people.  The problem really starts with measurement, and whether people actually notice the noise itself!  The editorial in the paper mostly contended that this was all a shell game, and probably just politically driven.  Yes, that's probably true.  Still, it is a step in a more reasonable direction, so I applauded this move.  I have previously blogged on this topic, when there was a scoping session held in town on this issue a couple of years ago.  This comment ran on May 4.

The Park Service, to their credit, wants to exclude high flying jets from being included in the convoluted measurement of “natural quiet” at the Grand Canyon.  But, there is a better way.

First, let’s dispense with the notion that “natural quiet” has any objective meaning.  It doesn’t.  When I’m hiking, I can’t hear much over my panting, groaning and moaning, except for maybe my pack creaking.  Totally unnatural, except to me!  And, Park Service helicopters are certainly the most egregious violators of quiet at the canyon, and I haven’t heard that they’ll be curtailed.

So, let’s cut to the chase.  Rather than debating on Byzantine regulations to restrict overflights, let’s use the market to find an efficient solution.

Here’s how.  Identify as many overflight routes as is practical over the Grand Canyon and auction off the rights to these routes.  They can be purchased by individuals, or by activist groups, or by air tour operators.  Then, instead of using the political process to determine what is best (and, probably getting it wrong), this auction will insure that the resource goes to its highest valued use, be it for quiet or for air tours.  And, the money from the auction could be used to improve the park, to the benefit of all visitors.

If you don’t like that idea, I suppose we could just have hikers download a “natural quiet” recording of the Grand Canyon onto their MP3 players.  Then, they can enjoy the natural quiet as much as they want!

Dennis Foster has a Ph.D. in economics, teaches at the university level, and is an avid Grand Canyon hiker.

     As it turned out, Cara Lynn and I went hiking down the Tanner trail this very weekend, so I could cache an inflatable kayak for a bigger hike the following week.  She spent many hours atop the Redwall, overlooking the river and a big chunk of the eastern part of the canyon, while I continued down to find a spot to leave the kayak.  She noted that it was often perfectly quiet, and she wouldn't have noticed that except for the occasional passing plane every 30 minutes or so.  Hmm... interesting point - if it wasn't for the noise, you wouldn't notice the quiet.  Still, I think it is a silly argument.  There are no overflights at night, nor are there any river trips plying their way down the Colorado.  So, at the beginning and end of each day, while one is puttering around in camp, it is quiet!  And, it is appreciated!

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