Aviators at Joint Base Lewis-McChord using newly established air routes began flying their helicopters higher over populated areas of Thurston County starting today to cut down on noise that has generated dozens of complaints from residents, a base spokesman said.
Col. Thomas Brittain, Lewis-McChord’s garrison commander, made the decision Tuesday following a review stemming from the complaints, base spokesman Joe Piek said. The altitude change took effect Friday morning after notice went out to the aviators.
“That should make a big difference in the noise,” Piek said.
Base officials have said the large amount of air traffic should taper off later this month after the about 500 aviators assigned to Lewis-McChord units finishing flying the route both day and night to get familiar with it.
Officials established the new air routes to ensure the growing number of helicopters stationed at Lewis-McChord can fly to and from training areas located on the base in an orderly and safe fashion. It’s the first time helicopters have flown off base to reach the training areas. The number of helicopters at Lewis-McChord has notably increased with the arrival of a new combat aviation brigade.
But residents living under the new routes say the helicopters have flown too low, too often and too late, interrupting sleep and jarring nerves. Last week, the base reported more than 50 individuals have filed noise complaints since aviators began flying the new air routes in the first week of July and more have come in since then. The concerns prompted officials to review the air routes, and Piek acknowledged the base should have done a better job of informing residents about the change.
There are two new one-way routes. The first counter-clockwise “blue” route passes over Yelm and Lake St. Clair, while the second clockwise “red” path goes out farther and directs helicopters over a group of lakes in and near Lacey and close to the city of Rainier before turning them north. Aviators are told to fly no lower than 1,000 feet on the “red route” and no lower than 1,300 on the “blue” route. Air traffic controllers track the altitude, and a base official has said there have been no violations.
Brittain ordered that aviators fly 500 feet higher on the north-south leg of both routes that pass over populated areas outside Lacey. As a result, aviators will fly no lower than 1,500 feet and 1,800 feet, respectively, on the legs of the red and blue routes.
Ronald Brown, who lives under the “red” route northeast of Long Lake near Lacey, said Thurday he’s certain the helicopters have been flying lower than 1,000 feet despite the base’s assurances they’re holding to that minimum altitude. He’s pessimistic the noise that has kept him awake at night and frightened his two cats will abate with the adjustment.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any noticeable impact,” he said.
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