April 14, 2011 |

SEABA seeks planners' OK of heliport at 26 Mile

Members of the Haines Borough Planning Commission on Thursday were slated to consider a conditional use permit for a 26 Mile Haines Highway heliport that would serve helicopter skiing tours, but the applicants withdrew their request.

Borough clerk Julie Cozzi said applicants had withdrawn their conditional use permit request, but “they plan to bring it back.” The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 12.

Scott Sundberg and Nick Trimble of Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) in a memo to planning commissioners said a heliport on Sundberg’s property at .6 Mile Chilkat Lake Road was “ideal,” due to “the departure and approach route to the commercial skiing areas,” and “established and utilized flight paths” within two miles that cross over state lands.

Sundberg did not respond to messages asking about the delay.

The Haines Borough Assembly last month adopted a revised heli-skiing ordinance that listed the Haines Airport, the Stewart landing strip at 18 Mile Haines Highway and a heliport at 33 Mile Haines Highway as heliports for commercial ski tours.

The assembly later approved an ordinance that made additional heliports a conditional use in the general use planning and zoning district, which does not include the townsite and Lutak and Mud Bay land use service areas.

Heliports in the general use planning and zoning district previously were a use by right. Approval now requires a planning commission public hearing, like other conditional uses such as for landfills, commercial power plants, cemeteries and hazardous materials storage facilities.

The Chilkat Lake Road heliport property, purchased in 2007, was the site of an unscheduled landing in 2008 that riled some residents. A proposal to establish a heliport there late that year stirred an outcry from the neighborhood and Sundberg dropped the idea in early 2009.

“Since the ongoing development of the borough tour permit and heliski regulations we have been apprehensive in furthering the development of the heliport until more solidified regulations that are deemed lawful (are) in place,” Sundberg and Trimble wrote in the memo.

They said the heliport also would ease congestion, following the assembly’s approval of Alaska Mountain Guides as a third heli-skiing operator in the borough.

The heliport would be available for operation from Feb. 1 to May 3, between 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., according to the application.

Resident Jessica Plachta said she has collected signatures in an attempt to get the area rezoned to prohibit heliports. She said the land is especially fragile due to its proximity to trumpeter swan habitat and the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.

“SEABA has sort of threatened to do this a couple of times in the past, and then withdrew because of neighborhood opposition,” Plachta said. “Now they’re going forward, in spite of neighborhood opposition, and so it looks to me like (rezoning) is basically our only option left in order to prevent a total change of our lives, against our will.”