Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


SEABA must seek new heli-ski permit: Assembly won't levy fines, will rewrite regulatory ordinance


September 23, 2010

Following more than an hour of closed-door assembly discussion Tuesday, Haines Borough Mayor Jan Hill said the municipality won’t fine local helicopter-skiing firm SEABA for violations of the local laws regulating the industry, but will require the company to apply for a new permit to operate in 2011.

Borough manager Mark Earnest at the same time will work with its attorney to draft a new ordinance regulating the industry, Hill said.

"It’s safe to say that some areas (of the heli-skiing ordinance) are materially flawed that we need to address," Earnest said after the meeting, refusing to elaborate.

The secret session held with a borough attorney is the continuation of one held last month, following receipt of a letter from SEABA challenging the borough’s authority to regulate heli-skiing, saying it was "outside of the specifically enumerated home rule powers" in the borough charter.

A separate, boroughwide vote was required to regulate heli-skiing outside the townsite service area and also was required to request authority to regulate in the Haines State Forest, company owners Scott Sundberg and Nick Trimble wrote.

On Wednesday, Sundberg said he hadn’t seen the borough’s decision in writing and had no comment on it at this time.

At Tuesday’s meeting, assembly members Norm Smith and Scott Rossman voted against holding the discussion behind closed doors. Rossman said he didn’t understand why a recent borough attorney opinion on the issue couldn’t be given to the newspaper.

Smith said: "It’s all going to come out anyway. Why are we delaying it?"

Resident Fred Einspruch said he believed recent executive sessions and special meetings were a violation of at least the spirit of the state’s open meetings law.

Referring to SEABA, heli-ski critic Thom Ely, noting that the assembly earlier in the meeting had rejected a tour permit request from former tour operator Dave Button, asked why another tour operator was able to flaut borough regulations. He said the assembly should show continuity in enforcing tour permits.

In a recent interview, Deborah Vogt, an attorney and former assembly member who helped create some of the borough’s heli-ski regulations, said SEABA’s challenge to borough authority didn’t release it from terms of a borough tour permit.

"To me, they signed a tour permit, which includes an agreement to abide by the conditions of the permit. You can legitimately argue that the power isn’t there, but that doesn’t give you the right not to abide by an agreement you signed," Vogt said.

In an Oct. 2001 advisory ballot, voters boroughwide supported managed use of helicopters for springtime heli-skiing, 541-395. In the same election, voters outside the City of Haines, in a 152-101 tally, created a service area charged with managing the heli-skiing. The two governments merged one year later.