The borough’s largest tour operator has proposed building a helicopter port at 24 Mile Haines Highway to expand heliskiing operations and improve access to the mountains in case of ski-related emergencies.

But the proposal — by Sean Gaffney’s company Chilkat River Adventures — has raised concerns from some upper valley residents wary of noise and the potential effects of increased helicopter traffic on bald eagles.

Gaffney, who owns heliski operator Alaska Mountain Guides, bought jet boat tour company River Adventures earlier this year. He applied for a conditional-use permit to construct a heliport on a three-acre River Adventures’ property on the Chilkat River, just past Wells Bridge on Haines Highway.

The Planning Commission was set to decide on the permit at a meeting last week, with a recommendation from borough staff to approve it. But staff moved at the last minute to postpone the hearing until the Planning Commission’s next meeting, on Nov. 10.

Borough planner Dave Long said staff decided to push off the hearing so they could research questions raised by community members about flight paths and potential effects on eagles nesting in the nearby preserve.

“The proposed heliport will increase safety and operations for currently permitted heliski activities. This proposed heliport will lend to having a strategic base in close proximity to heliskiing activities based further out the highway,” Gaffney wrote in his permit application. He said the infrastructure would also contribute to the growth of a winter economy and year-round employment in Haines.

Lynn Canal Conservation executive director Jessica Plachta asked the borough to seek input from the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee, the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan before making a decision on the permit application.

“The Bald Eagle Preserve is an integral part of our community and cumulative impacts from increasing helicopter flights over the preserve need to be evaluated and addressed before issuing a CUP (conditional use permit) for this heliport,” Plachta wrote in a public comment.

The eagle preserve’s management plan requires helicopters to fly at least 1,500 feet above the preserve. The proposed heliport is within a mile of critical eagle roosting sites, according to a map in the management plan.

Planner Long said he reached out to Alaska State Parks Southeast superintendent Preston Kroes for input on the application but had not heard back as of Wednesday morning.

Kroes and Gaffney could not be reached for comment by press time.

Active heliports at the Haines Airport, 18 Mile, 33 Mile and 35 Mile Haines Highway are currently used by four permitted tour operators for heliskiing. There are also two permitted heliports at the Palmer Project — one at Big Nugget camp on Porcupine Creek and the other along Glacier Creek.

Construction of a heliport in the borough’s General Use zoning area — which encompasses all of the borough except the townsite, Mud Bay and Lutak — requires a conditional use permit. In assessing an application, the Planning Commission must weigh eight criteria, including whether the proposed activity would be in harmony with surrounding land uses and would not harm public safety, health and welfare.

In the past decade, a split Planning Commission twice denied an application for a heliport at 26 Mile, saying it would create “undue noise.”