November 15, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 46

Assembly approves heli-ski ordinance

The Haines Borough Assembly unanimously passed a heli-ski ordinance Nov. 6 that alters several industry regulations.

Changes from current borough law include establishment of a $5 per day user fee, an increase in penalties to as much as $1,000 per violation, and an Aug. 31 deadline for heli-ski permit applications.

The ordinance also allows the assembly to change the heli-ski map annually by resolution. The map defines areas where heli-skiing can occur.

An amendment to the ordinance creating a separate committee to address the issue of map changes also passed. Proposed by Debra Schnabel, the amendment calls for a committee comprised of the permit holder requesting the map change, a Tourism Advisory Board member, a Parks and Recreation Committee member, and an Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee.

Assembly members Jerry Lapp and Dave Barry opposed the amendment. Lapp said the creation of another committee would just “muddy the waters,” and that the assembly could hear the recommendations of committee members and experts itself.

Several members of the public weighed in on the ordinance, including industry critic Thom Ely, who voiced support for the fine.

“I think there’s been a lot of thumbing of one’s nose at the regulation of the industry and the ordinance in particular. And I think the only thing that’s going to have any consequence is if people are actually fined and have a chance of losing their permit,” Ely said.

Heli-ski operator Scott Sundberg requested a decrease in the maximum fine amount.

“Our opponents say that $300 or the smaller fine doesn’t scare us, (that) we’re just going to break the law anyway. I disagree with this. Money is money; no one likes to pay money when they don’t have to,” Sundberg said.

Ely and Sundberg agreed that the $5 per day fee should be paid at the end of the season and determined by the number of skier days used. Lapp proposed an amendment adopting these suggestions, which passed unanimously.

The ordinance also directs the borough to establish a complaint response process.