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City eyes ban on helipads, helicopters

Draft ordinance up for council discussion



— Revisiting an issue that drew strong community interest this past spring, the Grangeville City Council is considering an ordinance to prohibit operating a helipad or helicopters within the municipal limits.

The two-page proposal was presented by city attorney Adam Green at the Oct. 5 meeting as a working draft for the council to review and provide suggestions in time for a revision to be prepared for discussion next Monday, Oct. 19.

In summary, the draft states the ordinance purpose as providing for the “protection of the public health, safety and general welfare” within city limits, and prohibits installation or operation of heliports or helistops, as well as helicopter landing or loading of passengers, materials or goods.

The draft is available for public view at city hall or online at www.grangeville.us and click on “news.”

Green noted the ordinance would need council review to clarify its purpose and intent, as well as provisions for law enforcement use exceptions. Expanding on this, Grangeville Police Chief Morgan Drew explained this would be a critical need in a mass casualty incident, specifically at the high school.

“That would be the only way to get out of there,” Drew explained, utilizing helicopters at the GHS track or football field for evacuating casualties, as the school has only one route in and out that would be congested with concerned parents. He spoke for both law enforcement and fire department exceptions in the ordinance, “to make the decision to bring aircraft in and do what we need to do.”

As it stands, the ordinance also makes no reference to helicopter activity as part of training or public demonstrations, several of which are regularly held in the city including GHS Sober Graduation, the EMT Spring Fling conference, and Syringa Hospital health fairs.

According to Mayor Bruce Walker, public safety primarily is motivating this ordinance. This effort grew out of more than a year of discussion on a proposal by Syringa Hospital for a Main Street helipad site across from its facility, and more recently a council workshop. The hospital proposed the helipad to reduce patient transport times for improved care. In May, the council – accepting a recommendation from the city planning and zoning commission -- denied the hospital’s application for a conditional use permit for the helipad, citing concerns for safety and public disruption.

Concerning the proposal, hospital CED Joe Cladouhos said he and the board will be waiting to review the council’s proposed ordinance before commenting on the matter.

In considering what changes or additions to make to the draft ordinance, the council was advised by Green to search online and review ordinances in other municipalities, noting there is a variety in how the rules are applied from community to community.

As far as the process, the council has to agree to a final draft ordinance that will be submitted to the city planning and zoning commission for review and also a public hearing to take comment. At the earliest, were a draft to be approved next week, P&Z could hold a hearing in late November. Following, P&Z will make its recommendations to the council that will consider the proposed ordinance in a subsequent meeting and as a result could make additional changes, or adopt or reject it.



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