Hearing delayed for proposed heliport
November 17, 2022
A public hearing over a proposed heliport at 24 Mile Haines Highway was postponed last week for the second time in two months.
The hearing — now scheduled for Dec. 8 — concerns a conditional use permit for a new heliport that would be used for Alaska Mountain Guides’ heliskiing operations. It would be built on Chilkat River Adventures’ property on the Chilkat River, a private parcel within the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
“I wanted to make sure I’m giving (the planning commission) the best recommendation I can get,” borough manager Annette Kreitzer said. “Anytime people raise issues of fact, then I want to run those down to the best of my ability. I felt there were issues of fact that I didn’t look at when I initially looked at this application.”
Those issues include the potential effects of helicopters on bald eagles and giving Klukwan more opportunity to provide input, Kreitzer said.
Chilkat Indian Village president Kimberley Strong sent a Nov. 4 letter to Haines Borough officials requesting a government-to-government consultation about the heliport, which is a few miles upstream from Klukwan and near Native allotments.
“This proposed heliport threatens our way of life, and the health and wellbeing of the natural environment around us,” Strong wrote. She said “there are two homes at Wells Bridge that will be directly impacted by the noise of landing and takeoff from the proposed heliport.”
Borough code requires staff to give notice to borough property owners within 500 feet of a proposed activity. Some residents have said they think greater notice should have been given for River Adventures’ permit application. Kreitzer said the administration strives to be consistent and to follow code.
“I agree that heliports are one of those situations where there should be wider notice given, and that will be a code amendment that we’ll be looking at,” she said.
River Adventures’ permit application says the heliport and expanded heliskiing business could create more jobs and would benefit Haines’ winter economy. Several residents have raised concerns about excessive noise and the effects of helicopter activity on roosting bald eagles. The proposed heliport site is within a mile of critical eagle roosting sites, as identified in the eagle preserve management plan.
Borough staff and the planning commission postponed an October hearing on the heliport to solicit input from Alaska State Parks about the potential impacts on the eagle preserve. from Alaska State Parks Southeast area superintendent Preston Kroes.
“Alaska State Parks has no management authority on that private property even if it is within the Preserve boundary,” Kroes wrote in a letter to the borough. “As we are always concerned about activities in and immediately adjacent to the Preserve that may affect the Preserve’s public lands, river systems and wildlife populations, in this case we have no jurisdictional authority regarding helicopter flight activities from a privately owned parcel.”
Kreitzer said she is confident the issue won’t be postponed further and that she will have a recommendation for the planning commission at its Dec. 8 meeting.
Alaska Mountain Guides co-owners Sean Gaffney and Eli Fierer bought River Adventures earlier this year.