SEABA resumes push for heliport


Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures co-owner Scott Sundberg once again is applying for a permit to establish a heliport near Chilkat Lake Road.

Sundberg said in an interview Tuesday that the heliport is integral to plans for a $5.5 million “eco-lodge” recreation village that would offer guided fishing trips, mountain biking trails, Nordic skiing and other activities in addition to heli-skiing. It would operate nine months per year, he said.

Sundberg submitted the conditional use permit application for the heliport on behalf of SEABA’s sister company Big Salmon Ventures, which he also owns. Big Salmon Ventures is a real estate holding company, while SEABA is an outfitter guide company, Sundberg said.

The planning commission will consider the permit application at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 13.

The heliport and portions of the future “eco-lodge” would be located on about 20 acres of property at .6 Mile Chilkat Lake Road, according to the application.

Members of the public interested in the plan are invited to tour the property Saturday. Meet at 1 p.m. in the parking lot across the Steel Bridge at 26 Mile Haines Highway. “We want to open this up to the public and the community and show them what we have going,” Sundberg said.

In early 2012, SEABA applied for a permit to build a heliport on a nearby 1.3-acre piece of property, about 400 feet from the current proposed spot. The request was rejected by the planning commission and the borough assembly.

Area resident Becky Hunt said she has heard about the application, but knows very little about it and hopes to learn more at the planning commission meeting. “My impression was they would not be able to bring this up again. I think that I’m a little bit perplexed as to how this is coming up again, and I think other people are, too,” Hunt said.

Planning commission chair Rob Goldberg said he hadn’t been able to look at the application yet.

Securing the permit for the heliport is essential to plans for the recreational village coming to fruition, Sundberg said. “The bottom line is we need a conditional use permit to operate for two months out of the winter and that is going to tie this whole nine-month season together. Without it, investors aren’t really excited about it,” he said.

Other companies around the world offer “door-to-heli” service, and that is what top-end clientele have come to expect, Sundberg said. “You’re competing with some of the world’s best, and they walk out the front door and they get in a helicopter and they go skiing.”

The first phase of the project will cost about $2.1 to $2.2 million and involve the construction of three buildings with a total of 24 rooms, Sundberg said. “The first stage has been designed to 80 percent, but there is room for change depending on” input from investors, he said.

The recreation village would attract a new kind of client, Sundberg said, so SEABA’s “old” clients would still be staying in town, eating at restaurants and shopping at stores. “It benefits the overall economy of the Chilkat Valley. I don’t think it will displace people who are using town for beds and restaurants, particularly because we are going after the market that wants door-to-heli service,” Sundberg said.

Sundberg’s previous attempts to secure a permit for the helipad have been controversial, with neighbors citing the potential for decreased property values and increased noise levels.

On Dec. 4, the company conducted decibel testing in the area in an attempt to gather data about how helicopter traffic would affect nearby residents. Planning commission vice chair Danny Gonce attended the testing, and took decibel-meter readings from driveways and roadways.

  Gonce was not available for comment this week, though he wrote a report of the experience, which Sundberg included in the permit application.

Sundberg said the highest readings related to the helicopter were at 60-65 decibels, where 60 is the noise level of a normal conversation and 70 is the level of an average radio or street noise.  

The application proposes several criteria for the conditional use permit including hours of heli-ski operations from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Feb. 1 to March 10, from 8 a.m. to 7 or 7:30 p.m. March 11 to April 1 and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April 2 to May 3.

Other criteria include fuel storage being conducted according to Department of Environmental Conservation standards with a spill containment program in place, allowance of emergency use for state and federal responses to medical or firefighting events, and a specific GPS flight path that would create the least amount of noise and impact to nearby residents.

It also includes a condition of voluntary shutdown of operations for special events where noise would be considered a nuisance or would disturb the quality of the event.

In a business plan outlining the recreation village concept, the company explains its vision for the property, which would initially include a main lodge capable of accomodating 8-16 people and two satellite buildings that would sleep a maximum of five people each.

“Our concept on full build-out will also include a year round greenhouse, two covered and screened-in viewing platforms on the edges of the property to view wildlife that moves though the Little Salmon drainage, and an exercise studio designed for yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and circuit training for a group of 20,” the plan says.

Other additions to the lodge would be a dining facility capable of holding 24 people, a commercial kitchen and utility rooms. According to the plan, there would also be “a central or communal room in which people can gather to enjoy the company of others. Often this is the combination of the dining, bar and grand room, a showpiece with views of surrounding ski terrain and nature.”

During design and development of the facility, the company could also consider adding in-house services such as massage therapy and a spa, the plan says. “Haines needs a higher-end option to complement its existing tourism infrastructure.”

Sundberg said investors are waiting on approval of the heliport permit to get the ball rolling, and that once that is complete the company can start finalizing timelines.

“If (the planning commission) approves it and there isn’t an appeal by opponents, we are going to move on to our investors,” he said. 


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