Temporary helicopter ban enacted in the Snyderville Basin
March 11, 2016
The ongoing helicopter controversy has now been grounded for the next six months after the Summit County Council approved a temporary ordinance on Wednesday banning new helicopter landing sites in the Snyderville Basin.
The County Council voted 3-1 in favor of the ban. Claudia McMullin cast the dissenting vote and Chris Robinson was absent. The six-month moratorium will go into effect March 24.
The move follows the controversy caused by two helicopter services that shuttled Sundance Film Festival-goers in January from Salt Lake City to Park City. The services prompted complaints from residents in the neighborhoods near the landing sites.
Several attended the discussion on Wednesday and provided input, including Deer Valley Resort President and General Manager Bob Wheaton. Wheaton said that the resort has been exploring the potential of starting a similar service for many years.
"We have taken a deep dive into this because, as a resort, we have seen an increased level of inquiries at Deer Valley in request from our clientele for helicopter transportation," Wheaton testified. "I would like to applaud the effort of the county to have a temporary restriction because it will give them time to take a look at what is important and gather public input.
"There are noise concerns, air quality concerns, as well as transportation concerns," Wheaton said. "On the positive side they are becoming much more popular and it’s safer having the opportunity to take six months and take a look at it."
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Tim Lapage, Park City resident and testified that he hated to see "such a knee-jerk reaction to the complaints of 25 to 40 people."
"Many people were really excited to see this and thought that Park City had arrived," Lapage said. "But that hasn’t been mentioned in the press. What this does is it counts off general aviation and activity. Everything is illegal for the next six months now and that would mean balloons, drones and remote control helicopters."
Lois Reid, associated with Air Resources, a commercial air carrier, said the county has only heard one side of the narrative and is reacting to the opposition. Reid spent several minutes describing the various services her company offers, in addition to passenger transport such as wildlife research and game capture, that would be affected by the ban.
"We are not trying to fight Summit County. We have no interest to fight them, but this will restrict the other services we are able to provide," Reid testified.
The temporary ban will apply to helicopter transportation and general aviation-related services, excluding emergency services for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and medical helicopters.
"It is only valid for a six-month period, in which we can actually take some time to go through a formalized process and have some permanent regulations," said Dave Thomas, Summit County’s chief civil deputy attorney. "It allows us to go through a more timely process before you put in place any permanent regulations."
The county’s current ordinance says that helicopter transportation, including private transport, is prohibited because it is not in a set of land uses outlined in the development code. That led to the confusion during Sundance.
However, McMullin said she does not understand the need to enact a ban on a use that is already prohibited.
"Yes it wasn’t a well-received position by a particular judge, but the code does state it’s prohibited. You don’t need to prohibit that which is already prohibited," McMullin said. "I don’t disagree with the idea of adding clarity, but I disagree with the urgent nature.
"I’m also concerned with the breadth of the TZO (temporary zoning ordinance) in that it covers general aviation when we know they are already landing on private property in the Basin," McMullin said.
County Council Chair Roger Armstrong referred to the next six months as "an opportunity" for coming up with solutions that "can make this work, if this is something that makes sense."
"I don’t have a special hatred for helicopters, but we can’t ignore their effect on air quality, noise and the impacts on wildlife and the neighborhoods," Armstrong said. "We have six months to do this so I think we should probably take it."
To view the temporary ordinance, go to http://summitcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/3167.
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