There won’t be a settlement between the Haines Borough and a resident at Chilkat Lake Road over a permit issued for helicopter use in that area. Instead, the case will likely be decided by a state judge.
Big Salmon Ventures, LLC, is associated with Southeast Alaska Back Country Adventures heliskiing company. It requested a permit last year to use its property off Chilkat Lake Road as a heliport. The company eventually plans to build a lodge at the site, but wanted to be able to use the property for helicopter landings and take offs before then.
The Haines Borough Planning Commission denied that request last year. But that decision was overturned by the borough assembly and the permit was issued. Then, Chilkat Lake Road resident Jessica Plachta filed an appeal to decision in Juneau Superior Court. She says the assembly erred in granting the permit because it did not show that the permit met the criteria outlined in code for a conditional use permit, which include:
- The use is so located on the site as to avoid undue noise and other nuisances and dangers
- The development of the use is such that the value of the adjoining property will not be significantly impaired
- The specific development scheme of the use is consistent and in harmony with the comprehensive plan and surrounding land uses
- The granting of the conditional use will not be harmful to the public safety, health or welfare
- The use will not significantly cause erosion, ground or surface water contamination or significant adverse alteration of fish habitat on any parcel adjacent to state-identified anadromous streams
- The use will comply with all required conditions and specifications if located where proposed and developed, and operated according to the plan as submitted and approved
- Comments received from property owners impacted by the proposed development have been considered and given their due weight
The borough and Plachta were talks for several months to settle the case. Even before this particular case, the borough expressed interest in conducting a noise study at the site to try to objectively gauge the impacts of helicopters in the area. That study seemed to be part of the settlement package as recently as last week, when borough manager Dave Sosa updated the assembly on it. However, the cost of the study had ballooned from what the borough estimated would cost less than $10,000 last May to a recent estimate of $52,000.
Sosa confirmed Thursday that settlement talks had broken down, but that he was still going forwarding with pursuing the noise study.
Plachta said she will continue with the case, which likely means it will go before a judge in the future.
She also said the noise study was never a point of contention for her in the case – she didn’t want one. Her sticking points in the settlement are that the borough, she says, wasn’t willing to have a maximum sound threshold in the study or use a standardized method of counting the number or residents in the area that are affected by the heliport.
She also says a noise study wouldn’t change the mind of those who feel affected by the helicopters – if residents believe the noise is loud, a study won’t change that perception.
Scott Sundberg is one of the owners of SEABA and Big Salmon Ventures. He said he worked with the borough on trying to come to a settlement. He had hoped it would pan out. He said the conditional use permit expires at the end of March, which is probably before the case would make it to court. But he says he will be seeking another conditional use permit in the future when he hopes to open in lodge in 2016.
For now, Sundberg says he supports the borough going ahead with the noise study.
Plachta says she will continue pursuing the appeal despite the current permit expiring at the end of March. She says to her, the case isn’t just about this one permit; it’s about the borough assembly not being aligned with its own laws.