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


Borough: Heliport would violate permit


January 5, 2012

The Haines Borough will send a letter to Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures informing them that use of a heliport at 26 Mile for commercial helicopter skiing is a violation of the company’s tour permit that could result in revocation.

Mayor Stephanie Scott said the letter has been approved by the borough’s attorney. "We intend to hold the line. The terms of the permit are the terms of the permit," she said.

SEABA officials told borough manager Mark Earnest in October that they would use a piece of land across the Steel Bridge as a heliport during the coming season, a 1.3-acre parcel that SEABA bought from a sister company, Big Salmon Ventures, in Sept. 2010.

The company has indicated it intended to rely on a section of code that allows developers two years from the date of purchase to initiate development consistent with uses authorized under zoning at the time the property was acquired.

Otherwise, SEABA would need to secure a conditional use permit from the borough to use the heliport there for commercial tours. The conditional use requirement was added to code in early 2011.

But Scott said this week that the two-year rule applied to land use, a separate issue from the tour permit. "That has nothing to do with their permit. That has to do with the use of the land. They could build a heliport there, but they can’t use it for their business."

SEABA’s tour permit allows the company to use heliports at 33 Mile, 18 Mile or the Haines airport, or one approved by the borough planning commission under a conditional use permit.

SEABA co-owner Nick Trimble declined to discuss the matter this week. "We’re just waiting for what the attorneys have to say. We really don’t have a comment," he said.

The company has previously proposed using 26 Mile, but dropped plans following an outcry by many of the property’s neighbors. SEABA used private land at 18 Mile as a heliport last year, but a change of ownership there may have altered the terms of that arrangement.

In other borough news, the municipality recently made an emergency hire to help at the harbor, as harbormaster Ed Barrett has been on leave since mid-December. Manager Earnest, who supervises Barrett, declined to say whether Barrett’s leave was voluntary or involuntary, paid or unpaid.

Asked whether Barrett would be returning to the job, Earnest said that’s up to Barrett. "It’s a personnel matter," Earnest said. "Let’s leave it at that."

Mayor Scott said under borough law, Barrett’s job is Earnest’s responsibility.

"I don’t know anything and it would be improper for others to know. It’s a personnel matter" and if information regarding it was disclosed, the borough could be placed in legal jeopardy, she said.

Harbor functions are being overseen by facilities director Brian Lemcke and assistant harbormaster Joe Parnell, she said.

Barrett was hired in August 2010, after harbormaster pay was raised to $65,000 per year. Earnest, who worked with Barrett in Whittier, recommended his hire, saying he could work with agencies and help oversee development of harbor expansion.

Barrett did not return phone messages left for him this week.

Earnest’s evaluation will be among items on the agenda when the assembly meets Tuesday.

Other items for consideration will include resolutions to support Alaska coastal zone management and for support of a veterans’ home in Haines. The Chilkoot Indian Association is seeking borough support to secure funding for construction of its own office downtown.

The borough recently received a letter from Cemetery Hill residents John Brower and Kathleen Menke about initiating a borough service to remove berms from driveways. Scott said the question is one of whether the public is interested in funding such service. "It’s one of those years that makes the problem very apparent."

Scott said such a service would likely require purchase of a new piece of equipment.

It’s unclear whether the borough could provide such a service to those residing along state-maintained roads.