The Army Corps of Engineers recently approved a Haines developer’s request to fill more than 1,400 cubic yards of wetlands to build three helipads near 10 Mile Haines Highway.

John Floreske applied in October for the permit to fill .34 acres of wetlands. His permit application show plans for three 59-foot helipads 250 feet apart, each connected to an existing 1,100-foot gravel roadway by a 39-foot-long ramp.

Randal Vigil, project manager for the Corps, said the agency received eight or nine comments during the public comment period, which ended Dec. 17. Vigil said one person supported issuance of the permit, while the remainder opposed it.

Most of the comments calling for denial of the permit concerned helicopter flight operations, which isn’t his agency’s concern, Vigil said.

“The overriding concern for the people that commented was helicopters, and the Corps doesn’t regulate helicopters,” he said. “I understand what people are concerned about, but our authority isn’t all-inclusive.”

Interim manager Julie Cozzi said that just because the Corps granted the permit to fill wetlands, Floreske can’t move forward with his plans to construct the helipads. “Just because (the Corps) issues a permit for fill doesn’t mean the helipads can be installed. Borough code requires a conditional use permit that involves a public hearing process. (Floreske) understands he must apply for and receive a conditional use permit before he can proceed with his plans.”

Planning and zoning technician Tracy Cui said last week she hasn’t received a conditional use application from Floreske.

“They were working with the FAA to ensure they comply with the regulations for permitting, construction and notifications. They haven’t submitted a conditional use permit application yet, but I anticipate they will submit the permit application to the borough very soon,” Cui said.

Floreske declined to comment when contacted by the CVN last week. Darrell Maple, Floreske’s public relations agent, also did not return calls for comment.

There is no elaboration in Floreske’s permit application about what or who would use the heliports, such as private mining firms or heli-ski companies.

Vigil said the Corps decided to issue the permit after weighing a variety of economic, environmental and aesthetic factors. “We determined that the proposed work would only have a minimal effect to the aquatic environment,” he said.

The permit comes with several conditions, including mandatory erosion control measures and restrictions on the condition of the fill to be used.

Floreske is also required to perform “compensatory mitigation” on his roughly 33-acre property at 10 Mile as part of the permit. The Corps gave him the choice of either paying a fee to the Southeast Alaska Land Trust (which would be used to preserve wetlands somewhere in Southeast), or to preserve land on his own property at a 2.5 to 1 ratio to the land being filled.

Floreske decided to preserve .85 acres of his 10 Mile property.