Chopper ban is back on the table
Summit County Councilwoman-elect Claudia McMullin supports banning commercial helicopters from taking off and landing in the Snyderville Basin.
"It bugs me," said McMullin, who will continue until the end of December as chairwoman of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission. "How is it even possible that it doesn’t disturb? It’s a helicopter."
Noise from choppers has irked neighbors as pilots from the private Park City Helitours have used a makeshift helipad at The Canyons. The public will weigh in at a hearing planned next year about whether helicopters other than those used for medical and rescue purposes, should be allowed to land in the Basin.
"We had plenty of complaints this summer," Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer said.
Still, banning helicopters outright did not sit well with some planning commissioners at a meeting Tuesday in the Basin.
"I don’t think I’m ready to say I would support an outright ban," Planning Commissioner Bassam Salem said. "I don’t know if I would want to say you can’t take off and land to do helicopter skiing or something like that."
Basin Planning Commissioner Mike Washington said he will not vote to ban landing sites for commercial helicopters in Summit County.
"There might be some good reasons to use helicopters," Washington said.
Short of prohibiting helicopters from landing in the Basin, Planning Commissioner Kathy Kinsman said a stringent permitting process could help ease concerns.
"I definitely think it’s something we should address," Kinsman said.
County codes can designate where helicopters take off and land, however, only the Federal Aviation Administration regulates air space, Summit County planner Sean Lewis said.
"We can’t control flight paths," Lewis said.
Mountain towns like Jackson, Wyo. and Breckenridge, Colo., regulate helicopters differently, Lewis said.
Pilots in Jackson obtain conditional use permits, he explained.
"Their regulations are very specifically about where they land," Lewis said about rules in Teton County, Wyo. "All the zones where they land in Jackson are a conditional use."
Critics anticipating the discussion about helicopters this week contacted the county to complain.
"We did receive calls from people who are still concerned about the issue," Summit County planner Kimber Gabryszak said. "It is still a ripe issue."
But the proximity of Park City to airports in Heber and Salt Lake City means banning helicopters from landing in western Summit County wouldn’t do much to reduce noise from choppers flying through, Park City Helitours owner Dave Thompson said.
"Legally, I can fly wherever I want. If they ban helicopters, so be it It’s really not going to affect me," he said in a telephone interview. "All we can do is move forward and try to be as friendly and helpful as we can during this process."
Thompson’s company provides some scenic rides but mostly tours for corporate clients scoping out future convention spots.
"They send out scouts to see if this area is suitable for that," said Thompson, who said he recently flew in Park City with clients from Ford Motor Company looking for a ski town to host thousands of employees. "The reason Deer Valley and the other ski resorts have been ranked No. 1 in the country is because there are activities to do here, so it would be a shame to step back and start restricting some of these activities."
Thompson said he flies mostly outside Summit County but catches heat for many other noisy flyovers in the Basin.
"When we start analyzing the noise complaints, let’s analyze, is it really Park City Helitours? The very first noise complaint that came in on us, the lady actually said it was a red and white helicopter, which is Air Med," Thompson said.
And helicopters are used in the summertime to construct chairlifts at ski resorts in Park City, he said.
"We allow them at 6:30 in the morning to do this heavy lift work and land in the parking lot and fuel and do maintenance," Thompson said. "Are they just picking on certain people or what?"
Comments about helicopters in the Snyderville Basin can be given to the Summit County Community Development Department at 615-3124.
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Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson has decried what she called a lenient sentence in a child sex abuse case in which a 20-year-old reportedly attempted to impregnate a 12-year-old. The perpetrator was sentenced to 20 days in jail and 10 years of probation.