October 11, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 41

Revised heli-ski ordinance introduced

The Haines Borough Assembly voted Tuesday 4-2 to introduce an ordinance that would charge heli-ski companies a $5 per skier-day fee and allow fines up to $1,000 per day for permit violations.

Establishment of the fee would not be effective until the 2014 season. Under current borough law, fines are limited to $300.

Members Jerry Lapp and Norm Smith voted in opposition. Smith questioned five “suggestions” included on a memo to the assembly by manager Mark Earnest last week. The suggestions includes ones that differed from terms that the assembly informally agreed to Sept. 11.

“The suggestions are merely food for thought,” said Mayor Stephanie Scott.

Among the suggestions were the one-year delay implementing fees “as this added burden was not factored into pricing for the 2013 season,” the memo said.

Lapp voted for discussion of a $2.50 per day fee and for adding Four Winds Mountain to a map of allowed heli-ski areas, suggestions also listed on the memo.

“I’m totally opposed to a user fee. (Heli-ski companies) do not use borough land anywhere,” Lapp said. “The only thing we’re trying to cover are the costs we’ve incurred ourselves by over-regulating these guys.”

Lapp said Four Winds could be used without disturbing residents.

The assembly also rejected a memo item that the borough consult with state wildlife biologists before adopting changes to its heli-skiing map, in order to identify areas of conservation concern. Member Steve Vick cast the sole vote for consultation.

Member Debra Schnabel questioned a requirement to consult with biologists, saying it was unclear whether the borough would be compelled to take the state’s recommendation or that it had the expertise to weigh it.

“At any point in time we can consult with anybody we want to but to actually adopt language to say ‘we may, we shall, we should’ those are far too difficult for us to manage and I wouldn’t want to burden the manager with the consequence of the consultation. Then what do you do?” Schnabel said.

Borough leaders have said the skier-day fee would go toward covering costs of regulating the industry, estimated at $9,000 per year.

Although she voted to introduce the ordinance, member Joanne Waterman voted against each of the five suggestions.

“I think these were comments made at a committee meeting. It’s not what I feel is thought-out language. This is the introduction of this ordinance,” Waterman said.

The first public hearing on the ordinance is set for Oct. 23.