A Homer helicopter pilot who dreams of operating a helipad on the Homer Spit took his case to the city Planning Commission last week.
Eric Lee is the pilot who is proposing to build a helipad on the Homer Spit. Lee proposes to use a spot on a vacant section of boardwalk near the Kachemak Shellfish Mariculture Association. He said he will use the helipad for takeoffs and landings of a relatively small and lightweight three-passenger helicopter.
The idea is to give visitors on the Spit something they do not currently have – an opportunity to take a helicopter tour around the Spit and Kachemak Bay.
Lee spent the better part of an hour Wednesday night stating his case to the planning commission and answering their questions about his proposal. He said he had talked to most of the business owners that would be his neighbors on the Spit and they are supportive of his plan, which would include up to six takeoffs and landings per day.
The helicopter business, said Lee, could be a boon to all businesses on the Spit.
“From a revenue point of view for the city, more people added… to the tax base, adding more people to Homer. Hopefully at a later date, I’m able to go year round. Not on the Spit, I’m not planning on the Spit year round,” he said.
Some commission members sounded skeptical of the plan, however, as did most of the people who showed up to testify on the subject.
Jackie Dentz is a licensed pilot with 35 years’ experience and she also owns the Frosty Bear Ice Cream Parlor on the Spit. She said she supports the flightseeing business and has nothing against helicopters but she thinks a helipad operation on the Spit, where there are so many campers in the summertime, would be just too dangerous.
“I wish I’d taken a picture Memorial Day weekend, it was wall-to-wall tents and campers. There was no room for anything. And if you’ve ever been in the down draft of that rotor helicopter, you know there’s going to be a lot of debris,” she said.
George Matz is a local birder who is concerned that helicopter operations on the Spit would negatively affect the bird population, especially for sensitive species.
“A helicopter pilot would have to be looking 360 degrees to make sure that there’s not some kind of bird… coming at them. One big bird like a gull or an eagle could be disastrous,” he said.
Other testifiers made points concerning the level of noise produced by helicopters, the danger posed by strong wind gusts on the Spit and whether the activity would be distracting to drivers. Some wondered why Lee could not move his operation to Beluga Lake or the Homer Airport.
Lee did draw some support from fellow pilot Deb Mosely, who focused on the most-repeated claim, that helicopters are just too loud.
“There are a lot of other things causing noise out on the Spit. There are cars; there are boats, people, and all sorts of noise out there. This helicopter isn’t really that loud. It would maybe be interesting if we did some sort of research on the exact decibels of the helicopter and see how they related to… a boat,” she said.
Current city regulations allow a maximum noise level of 80 decibels. That’s roughly equivalent to standing next to a garbage disposal or hearing a propeller airplane fly overhead at about 1,000 feet. Lee said that his helicopter takeoffs and landings would likely come in near that 80-decibel level.
In the end, the commission closed the public hearing on the helipad proposal but did not issue a decision on whether to grant Lee a Conditional use Permit, which would allow him to proceed with his plans.
Deputy City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen said the commission decided to hold deliberations on the issue at city hall. Those deliberations will not be open to the public, however. Jacobsen said that because the matter is a – quote – “quasi-judicial decision,” the deliberations can take place in a closed session.
Jacobsen expects the commission to officially release its findings at its next meeting June 19.