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Ordinance may focus solely on helicopters

— Throw out what you may have heard about regulations or prohibitions on helicopters and helipads within the city of Grangeville. The issue remains an open book continuing to be shaped by council comment and expected further public discussions.

Last week, Mayor Bruce Walker clarified the council has been dealing with a draft ordinance as the framework around which discussion will flesh in the details of potential rule and policy changes. And in fact, based on his input, as well as through council discussion at the Oct. 19 meeting, the direction may be to not restrict helipads and heliports within the city, focusing on a permitting system for one-time helicopter landings and takeoffs.

Council was instructed to further consider the matter and provide comment to the city clerk for inclusion in a working draft to be discussed at an upcoming meeting. General consensus was the issue needed time for review and consideration, and may continue into one or more meetings before a proposed ordinance would come before the council for adoption.

With more than 20 people attending last week’s meeting, Walker commented that public discussion through social media and newspaper reporting on the initial draft – prohibiting helipads/heliports, and helicopter landings or takeoffs -- was premature, that there were misconceptions this was the final ordinance being proposed, rather than a starting place for discussion, and he clarified it was brought forth at council request.

While he appreciated Free Press reporting on the topic, Walker said, “it probably caused more animosity than anything else.”

Leading off discussion, Mayor Walker said his preference would be to not restrict helipads/heliports within the city – “I think that would be shortsighted,” he said -- that the conditional use process currently exists to handle such requests. He did say a permit system should be in place for helicopters within the city that should include a penalty and stiff fine for violations.

As a matter of process, eliminating helipad/heliport language – issues dealing with city zones -- from a proposed ordinance would likely avoid this having to go first through the Planning and Zoning Commission for review and recommendation, prior to consideration and possible adoption by the city council. With just helicopter permitting at issue, the P&Z step would most likely not be required in a proposed ordinance that could be passed by the council during a regular meeting.

Councilor Michael Peterson agreed the existing conditional use process in place is sufficient, and on the need for a penalty within a proposed rule, also adding that exceptions need to be in place for law enforcement. Both councilors Beryl Grant and Pete Lane stressed the importance of getting such an ordinance right with continued input and review. Some question was raised, including by Councilor Wes Lester, whether, if the existing process works, whether there was any need for an ordinance.

Several audience members asked questions regarding the proposal, intent of the council in this and their interest in commenting. One attendee, David Ketchum, a senior planner on airports and heliports with T-O Engineers, said he drove up from Boise to attend the meeting and offered to be a resource to the city in this process on a pro bono basis.

“We’re going to take our time on this,” Walker said. “We want to make sure we do it right.”


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