The Haines Planning Commission Thursday approved conditional use permits for a restaurant, a hydro operation, and a helipad.
Haines residents Cambria Goodwin and Eric Forster plan to open a new restaurant, called The Pilotlight, in the building where Mosey’s Cantina used to operate.
Neighboring residents Leigh and Greg Horner said when Mosey’s was in business, the restaurant’s parking and composting methods were a concern.
“It was just a bad experience, it got way out of hand,” Greg Horner said.
Forester said he and Goodwin planned to be respectful of the neighbors. He said, if composting on the property becomes a nuisance, they would dispose of it off-site.
“We can work around anything, we’re not trying to make our neighborhood stink,” Forster said. “We live there too, we don’t want our property to stink. We’re not trying to ruffle feathers.”
The planning commissioners talked about putting requirements regarding composting or parking in the conditional use permit. But they decided that would be punishing the new owners for the problems of the past. The restaurant permit was unanimously approved, with no restrictions.
The second permit on the agenda was from John Floreske, of Southern Energy Inc., for a proposed hydro-electric power generator at Walker Lake. Floreske presented the commission with dozens of pages of plans and permits.
“It’s been in the process for five years. I’ve put a lot of effort, a lot of money into it,” he said.
Walker Lake drains into Walker Creek and Little Salmon River. 26-Mile resident Nicholas Szatkowski spoke out against the hydro project, saying it could impact salmon and swan habitat.
“You want to make sure you put [hydro projects] in places where there won’t be really significant biological consequences, and unfortunately the Little Salmon Watershed is a place that’s really biologically rich,” Szatkowski said.
Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan, who used to work for a regional watershed council, said he didn’t think the hydro operation would impact Little Salmon. He said Alaska Fish and Game would also have to review the project for those kind of impacts before it goes forward.
The commission unanimously approved the hydro permit.
“I look at it as power security for Haines,” said chair Rob Goldberg. “I think we need this project.”
The commission also unanimously approved a conditional use permit to allow a helipad at 35 Mile for the purpose of operating a heli-skiing business. Property owners Sean Brownell, of Alaska Heliskiing, and Mike Wilson, have been trying to get permission to use the helipad for months now.
Brownell said it will allow them to move their operations away from 33 Mile, which he said has ‘safety issues.’
“The close calls with vehicles and all the activity that happens at 33 Mile is really distracting,” Brownell said. “I’ve seen cars swerve as the heli flies over them and the snow kicks up and creates visibility problems. I’ve been watching it go on for many years and just haven’t been comfortable with it.”
Goldberg said he visited the 35-Mile site, and it appears to be a safer location than 33 Mile.
“My concern is that it would be great if we were closing 33 Mile and doing this, and my concern is we’re not,” said Commissioner Heather Lende. “And we’re hearing how unsafe that is and now we’re going to have two operations right next to each other.”
Commissioner Donnie Turner said the safety of the 33 Mile heliport shouldn’t be a factor in the decision about 35 Mile.
“I think it’s kind of dangerous for us to be talking about safety issues that we have no expertise in,” Turner said. “You’re not a helicopter expert neither am I, and so I have no expertise on whether that site is safe or not safe and so I’m not going to issue an opinion to that effect.”
The permit the commission granted only allows for helipiad use for heli-ski operations about three months out of the year. Brownell and Wilson are appealing to the commission for unlimited year-round use.
They say that since the helipad was in operation before the Haines Borough imposed additional restrictions on heliports, they have use-by-right. But former acting manager Julie Cozzi, at the advice of the borough attorney, said that since helicopter landings were so minimal during that time, the use-by-right is limited to a handful of landings per year.
The commission decided to seek further advice from the borough attorney about whether the conditional use permit it just granted changes anything.
So, the 35 Mile heliport will come before the planning commission for the sixth time at its next meeting on March 10.