Helicopters in the Snyderville Basin anger some
August 13, 2010
Responding to citizen complaints, the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission is discussing a set of guidelines for commercial helicopter pilots on the West Side of Summit County.
People on all sides of the issue have closely watched the discussion for several months. For years county officials have discussed ways to identify where helicopters are allowed to take off and land.
The situation came to a head about three years ago when Park City Helitours partnered with The Canyons to fly sightseeing tours out of the resort. Last year, Summit County received several comments when changes were proposed to a helicopter-skiing operation at The Canyons.
"Staff received more than 40 phone calls and 40 separate e-mails regarding this item," Summit County planner Sean Lewis wrote in a staff report in July.
Negative feedback focused mostly on noise and dust the helicopters generate, Lewis explained.
Wasatch Powderbird Guides has provided helicopter skiing in the Park City area for decades. Last year’s application sought to move the helipad closer to the base area at The Canyons. The helicopters currently take off from the Lower Village at the resort.
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"Those who spoke in favor of the proposal pointed to the safety record of helicopters in general, and specifically Wasatch Powderbirds," according to Lewis.
But county officials denied a permit application for the project. Helicopter opponents say officials in the Snyderville Basin should establish specific rules regulating where commercial helicopter pilots may land.
"There is really nobody who is in charge of regulating this," Basin resident Andrew McLean said. "The buck doesn’t stop anywhere."
Federal officials who oversee air space do not control where helicopters land, he stressed.
"There is really nowhere you can turn to when you have a problem with these guys," McLean said.
The debate continues and pilots are concerned that county officials might approve restrictions that are too tight.
"The pilots were fearful that Summit County would over regulate helicopters to the point that helicopters would essentially be banned from the Snyderville Basin," according to Lewis.
The Federal Aviation Administration regulates air space, however, county officials may determine where helicopter pilots are allowed to take off and land, according to county planners.
Many of the noise complaints have come from people in the Sun Peak neighborhood, which is adjacent to The Canyons. There are no rules that prohibit helicopter pilots from landing in the Snyderville Basin.
Lewis said members of the Basin Planning Commission hope to explore whether landings in the Snyderville Basin could be limited to industrial areas.
"We’re going to look into the feasibility of that and see what’s available there," Lewis said in a telephone interview. "That’s one of the options that is on the table."