Some of the Quiet Skies members meeting at Café Aroma on Monday, July 2, are (from left) Bill Sheppard, Helle Pearson, Helen Hixon, David Pearson, Edith Brix, Ignacio Garcia, Bjarne Brix, Stacy Emmons and Peter Davison. Photo by debra varnado

Concerned about increased commercial air traffic over the Hill, and wanting to preserve peace and tranquility in the San Jacinto Mountains, several residents have formed a coalition to fight the “Southern California Metroplex — NextGen” — the Federal Aviation Administration’s new procedures for airport arrivals and departures in Southern California.

Their organization — Quiet Skies Idyllwild — was formed in June to reverse the system and to bring quiet skies back to Idyllwild. The group has documented “an increasing number of flights over the Hill since August a year ago.”

But FAA documents indicate the [NextGen] changes “would make the airspace safer and more efficient … and were not expected to require any ground disturbance or increase in the number of aircraft operations.”

The agency’s environmental assessment concluded the system would have “no significant impacts or reportable noise increases.”

QSI members disagree with those assessments and appear to be gaining traction in bringing attention to the issue. Membership has grown beyond the initial members— Bill Sheppard, Helle Pearson and David Pearson, Ph.D.

Pearson said, “During Idyllwild’s Fourth of July parade, we collected more than 140 signatures for our petition [to Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D.]. Our online petition already has 40 signatures as of 8 p.m. Saturday.”

The group already had gotten the federal lawmaker’s attention. Ruiz called the matter “urgent” in a June 21 letter to the FAA regarding “recent changes to flight patterns over Southern California as a result of the Southern California Metroplex.”

He requested answers from FAA regarding how “NextGen” was evaluated and how it led to a finding of no significant impact. He asked what other measures, besides altitude, were used. Was topography considered in relation to acoustical impacts? What efforts were used to engage and get feedback from the community, and what comments were received? Were noise impacts on national parks or other protected areas evaluated?

The congressman said he wants those answers by the end of July. “I am concerned that these changes are negatively affecting my constituents due to vastly increased noise pollution over the San Jacinto Mountain region, particularly the Idyllwild community.”

QSI also has conducted research to quantify the impact of “NextGen” on Hill communities. Flightradar24.com data were compiled for five days: the first Tuesdays in August and November 2017, and in February and May 2018, and for Saturday, June 23, 2018. The number of flights over the Hill, their altitudes, paths and more were analyzed. Military planes and helicopters were excluded.

Pearson told The Town Crier, “The data show there are between 106 and 222 flights a day over the Hill. Approximately 90 percent of the flights have consistently been east-bound LAX departures … directly over Idyllwild–Pine Cove headed from Hemet towards an FAA waypoint (GPS beacon) between Indio and Joshua Tree.

“We know there is a lot of variation in the daily traffic with the lowest number being 106 in June. The number for May was the highest, recorded [at 222 flights], but we have not yet been able to extract the data for most other dates.”

Pearson added, “We’ll be doing more data analysis in the coming weeks … to identify statistically relevant trends.”

In his letter to the FAA, Ruiz said, “… residents of Idyllwild have reported a significant increase in aircraft noise over their homes beginning daily as early as 5 a.m. and continuing as late as 1 a.m. For individuals in Idyllwild and other nearby communities, this has a number of detrimental effects …”

A member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Subcommittees on the Environment, and Communications and Technology, Ruiz cited flights over the Hill occurring during early morning April 20.

“My office received reports of loud aircraft noise over Idyllwild at 5:04 a.m. Working with an FAA representative, it was determined there were four commercial flights in the area at the time (military flights were ruled out).

“The lowest altitude flight was a B763 flying at approximately 13,300 feet flying at Average Ground Level (AGL). The noise was enough to wake my constituent. Similar noise continued throughout the day.

“It is my understanding that … flights are often over 13,000 feet above ground level (AGL) with a mean sea level (MSL) of 19,500 feet, which in theory should create a negligible amount of ground level noise.

“I am concerned that while this may hold true in open, flat regions, the mountainous topography in areas such as Idyllwild leads to increased amplification of aircraft noise.

“As a physician, I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of sleep to a person’s overall health. Lack of a consistent sleep can result in reduced energy, changes in mood, and compromised immune system function, and can also make one more prone to serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Pearson found that, “Planes flying over us (usually 15,000 to 30,000 feet) leave a 60- to 90-second noise reverberation signature. On a busy day, this can be every 2 to 4 minutes or more than 220 flights a day ….”

Sheppard, a Fern Valley resident and audio engineer said, “We’ve heard from visitors, backpackers and fire spotters at the lookout towers,” which stand at elevations of 4,573 feet to almost 9,000 feet overlooking Idyllwild.

“They sleep in tents and they are hearing planes go over all night long. They’re saying it’s as ‘noisy as hell.’

“Some residents may not be aware of the noise,” Sheppard added. “The topography in our area affects residents differently — what they hear — depending upon where they live. The mountain ridges surrounding our communities form a natural bowl in which sounds reverberate, particularly jet engine noise from over-flights. The frequencies … the sound waves themselves are being caught in this bowl and then resonating.”

Many QSI members have lived under airport flight paths in L.A. or San Diego counties. Others, like Sheppard, are “musicians sensitive to the nuance and little innuendos in sound,” or they have lived on the Hill for years and can “see and hear the increase in air traffic.”

Sheppard told The Town Crier he was “pleasantly surprised when Dr. Ruiz’s office got back to us immediately and got to work on the issue. I thought that was great, and I am really pleased with what they’ve done so far — and their sending the letter with pointed questions to the FAA.”

In addition to research and data analysis, QSI members have scheduled time to talk with Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington and made presentations to local community groups.

The concerned public is invited to join the QSI conversation at 2 p.m. Mondays at Café Aroma. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Quiet-Skies-Idyllwild-257291164816380/ or email QuietSkiesIdyllwild@gmail.com.

The online petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/raul-ruiz-quiet-skies-for-idyllwild.

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