Snoqualmie Tribe Concerned with Unregulated Air Traffic at Snoqualmie Falls

The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe has appealed to the Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation and the FAA to uphold their trust obligation by introducing flight restrictions over sacred Snoqualmie Falls.

The sacred site, which is listed on the National Register as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) has experienced a sharp increase in low altitude and unregulated air tours in the past year. The tribe believes air traffic is disrespectful to the Tribe and distracting and dangerous to residents and visitors to the Falls.  

“The airspace above Snoqualmie Falls is being continuously violated by low-flying helicopter tours that infringe upon our right to enjoy our sacred site,” said Chairman Robert de los Angeles. “These private aviation companies are capitalizing our sacred site and violating our rights as Snoqualmie people to practice our cultural beliefs at the Falls in peace. It is our obligation, as Snoqualmie people, to do everything we can to protect our sacred site from continued harm.”  

Snoqualmie Falls lies on the Snoqualmie River within the Snoqualmie Tribe’s ancestral lands and is a sacred site central to the Tribe’s creation story and religious practice. Tribal members have been holding religious and cultural ceremonies at the Falls since time immemorial.

Preservation of the Falls and the surrounding area is of the utmost importance to the Tribe, and in 2019 the Tribe purchased the Salish Lodge & Spa and adjacent acreage to stop development.   

Since spring 2020, the Snoqualmie Tribe has expressed its concerns to the helicopter tour operators that advertise flights above Snoqualmie Falls, including Atomic Helicopters and Helicopters Northwest. Those concerns have been ignored.

Now, the Tribe has urged the United States to step in and develop ways to mitigate and abate ongoing harms to Snoqualmie Falls. The Tribe recently made an appeal to the public through its Snoqualmie Tribe Ancestral Lands Movement for individuals to file complaints with the FAA. 

“We urge members of the public, including residents who live in the area, to report complaints to the FAA via their online complaint tool,” said Tribal Councilmember Christopher Castleberry. “We need a solution that will protect the airspace above Snoqualmie Falls, similar to the airspace restrictions in place over National monuments. We need immediate action in order to ensure that the 2 million-plus individuals who visit our sacred site each year are kept safe.”  

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  • One of your Snoqualmie Police Officers filed a complaint with the Seattle FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) regarding this very problem this past summer. The FSDO contacted the tour operator. Here is a copy of the airspace regulations. As long as these are followed, there is no much you can do.

    § 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.

    Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

    (a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

    (b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

    (c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

    (d) Helicopters, powered parachutes, and weight-shift-control aircraft. If the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface –

    (1) A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA; and

    (2) A powered parachute or weight-shift-control aircraft may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (c) of this section.

  • I love when this little buzzing prop planes practice engine cut out right over my house. Watching them plummet down gives me comfort. My favorite is when they simply circle for hours like wondering fairies in the sky. Please don’t take this away from me. But seriously, I hope these small, low flying, loud and never ending parade of airplanes find a new airspace to cruise in.

  • It is sad to see more interest in “not in my backyard” rather than supporting the
    Snoqualmie Tribe.

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