Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures exceeded its allowable skier days this year by 22 percent, despite a 29 percent increase provided by the Haines Borough.

The Haines-based helicopter-skiing company also used more than twice its allowable photo days and is the subject of a resident’s complaint of flying outside management plan boundaries April 4.

“The administration – the clerk’s office and myself – have some very strong concerns about compliance and the lack of one of the operators to stay within limits prescribed by (borough) ordinance. That is something we take very seriously,” borough manager Mark Earnest told the assembly July 13.

Earnest brought violations of the borough’s helicopter-skiing ordinance to the assembly after they were revealed in a required, season-end report from operators earlier this month. The reports showed SEABA used 550 skier days, 100 more than this year’s allocation of 450.

In an interview this week, SEABA co-owner Nick Trimble said the company ran over the limit rather than turn down business. “We couldn’t turn the business down. We just couldn’t turn it down.”

The additional skier days amount to about seven skiers flying each day for two weeks. Trimble said he’ll be asking the borough this fall to increase the company’s permanent allocation to 550. “That’s really all we need for what we do at this point.”

The company flew 406 skier days last year, after the borough assembly approved an emergency ordinance April 14, 2009 that upped its allocation 100 skier days from 350. That increase was made permanent by assembly action in January.

SEABA also exceeded its allocation for photographer days, using 22, 12 more than its allocation of 10.

Trimble said he took additional photo days to accommodate clothing manufacturer Eddie Bauer, which was here getting promotional footage for a new line of gear that will bear the guiding company’s name.

“To do a photo and film day, everything has to line up perfectly. As a company, I’m not going to say, ‘Even though you spent $75,000 on helicopter time to make this happen, I can’t take you up because we’re out of photo days,” Trimble said.

He said he wouldn’t be seeking additional photo days, as he didn’t anticipate as much activity in the coming year.

River Road resident Thom Ely testified at the July 13 meeting that the borough was dragging its heels in enforcing its helicopter-skiing management plan. Ely sent a complaint that SEABA was flying below management plan boundaries April 4 and discounted a company statement to the borough that weather pushed the helicopter off flight paths.

“There were no weather issues that day. I was sitting on my deck. It was a calm, beautiful Easter Sunday,” Ely said. “It seems like with this issue there’s a lack of follow-through on the assembly’s part. Like any ordinance, this should be enforced – whether it’s a building ordinance or anything that’s on the books.”

In an interview, Ely said he witnessed a SEABA helicopter landing at 1,200-feet elevation near the bottom of Chilkat Inlet’s Haska Creek, about 2,000 feet below the boundary on the borough’s management plan. “They keep skiing lower than that. They’ve been doing that for years.”

Ely also criticized the borough for not pursuing a plan approved by the assembly in January that would have required GPS tracking devices in helicopters and bi-weekly reports of landings and drop-offs.

SEABA reported that weather pushed a helicopter off flight paths April 4, but Trimble discounted Ely’s account, saying warm weather had skiers to higher elevations. “To be below 4,000 feet in April, it just didn’t happen. There’s no reason for us to be anywhere near that area.”

Manager Earnest told the assembly “we can still deal with some of the issues that occurred this past season.” He requested the issue be referred to committee because current borough ordinance does not address penalties.

“There needs to be fines that are established in code. We just can’t arbitrarily come up with a number and say, ‘Well, this is $100.’ There are some issues that need to be clarified,” Earnest said.

In an interview this week, Earnest said he would also refer the question to new borough attorney Brooks Chandler, who has experience with helicopter-skiing issues.Trimble has questioned whether the borough has authority to regulate helicopters and says a borough attorney’s opinion will decide the question.

Earnest said an opinion by former attorney Michael Gatti did not preclude borough regulation. A copy of the opinion was not available this week. “In general, the borough has the authority to regulate through its permitting process,” Earnest said. “It’s more of a zoning issue than regulating airspace.”

Earnest said he didn’t know what the process would be for penalizing SEABA. “The decision first is, can we fine, and if so, what fine is appropriate.”

Assemblyman Norm Smith expressed frustration at the speed of borough progress on enforcing borough law governing helicopter skiing, and that assemblymen weren’t made aware of Ely’s complaint until recently. “No offense, but we’ve been going through the process here for 10 years. The process is flawed.”

After the July 13 meeting, Earnest said what constitutes an infraction of the ordinance also is not defined in code. He said he intended to have an ordinance to the assembly by fall to address those deficiencies.

The ordinance in which the assembly approved the 20 percent increase in helicopter-skiing opportunities in January also called for GPS tracking devices in helicopters and bi-weekly reports of landing and drop-offs.

In mid-February, borough staff said there were hitches in the GPS plan including what qualifies as a flight infraction, who bore the responsibility for purchasing GPS devices, and the time required to process data submitted by helicopter operators.

In mid-March, Earnest said the borough continued to investigate how GPS data could be logged to depict helicopter flight paths on a GPS map, how to match flight corridors with coordinates on a map and the amount of time it would take borough staff to monitor data.

At the recent meeting, Earnest said the borough would have software in place by next season to track helicopter flights.

SEABA is one of two helicopter-skiing outfits in the valley, along with Alaska Heli-Skiing. Alaska Heli-Skiing used 659 of its 750 allotted skier days in 2010 and 53 of its allotted 90 photo days.