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Council sends helipad proposal into conditional use process

— Plans for Syringa Hospital’s Main Street helipad may be delayed into early fall following last week’s action by the Grangeville City Council to send the proposal through the conditional use process.

Councilors stated concerns for safety, nuisance and sufficient public comment regarding the project, which the hospital was tentatively planning to have completed at the Main and South C streets vacant corner lot – former Ernie’s Steakhouse location — by August. Now with the issue being directed to receive a conditional use permit, it could be up to three months before a decision, either for or against, is made.

“We don’t want to be perceived as anti-hospital or anti-safety,” said Mayor Bruce Walker, clarifying the council was concerned for the overall general public as regards both safety in operations, as well as the logic in helipad location placement.

The conditional use process will require first a hearing before Grangeville Planning and Zoning Commission, preceded by public notice and also notification of property owners within a 300-foot radius of the proposed project location. Open to public comment, the P&Z hearing will review the plan and submit a recommendation to the city council, which will make the final decision.

“Zero people I’ve talked to think this is a good idea,” said Jeff Kutner, resident and former Grangeville city councilor.

Kutner presented the council at its Monday, July 7, meeting with multiple strikes against the helipad’s proposed commercial zone Main Street location and spoke to the need for starting public discussion about the plan. Kutner was also who suggested the project would require a conditional use permit from the city as the helipad, like the hospital, is not specifically listed as an allowed use within the commercial zone. As per city code, construction approval would first require a permit from the city.

“This takes a prime commercial property off Main Street,” Kutner said, as well as off the tax rolls, would cause an undue traffic hazard during helicopter operations, and also result in noise and potential damage to adjacent residences and businesses.

He requested quick city action on the permit request so as to inform the Syringa Hospital board of trustees before its next regular meeting set for Monday, July 28. The meeting starts at 12:30 p.m., Soltman Center, and is open to the public.

As proposed, plans are to construct a 30-by-30-foot concrete pad with lights and a lighted windsock, enclosed within a chain link security fence and possibly cement barriers. Patients would be transported by gurney from the hospital main entrance across Main Street to the helipad. Cost is estimated at less than $10,000. Purpose of the project is to reduce patient transfer time, estimated between 15 to 20 minutes, to reduce chances for disabling injury and death.

“I’ve got some reservations for where it’s at,” said Grangeville Police Chief Morgan Drew, specifically with the proximity of the helipad to adjacent residences and businesses, coupled with the amount of daily Main Street traffic. Drew voiced, as did a few others at last evening’s meeting, were he seriously injured he would want rapid medical response such as this project proposes, but he also weighed it against the potential risk. “Even on the best of days,” he continued, with optimal weather conditions, were the helicopter to develop problems in this location, “there’s no best place to lay it down.”

Additional issues raised by both Mayor Walker and Councilor Wes Lester included the noise, danger to bystanders watching landings/takeoffs, the delays to traffic in this intersection that receives a large amount of school-related transportation, and that this project was developed without public input.

“An ordinance would be an overreaction to the whole thing,” said Councilor Brian Lorentz, who, along with Councilor Beryl Grant, favored the conditional use as the best way for the city to address this. “Everyone who is opposed to this thing should go to the hospital board meeting. This is a hospital problem. If they know there’s opposition, it will go away on its own.”

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