Board of County Commissioners allows for 3 year heli-skiing Temporary Use Permit, subject to 15 preconditions of approval.
Board of County Commissioners allows a 3-year temporary use permit for heliskiing subject to 15 preconditions of approval.
At their September 13, 2012 public hearing, the Board of County Commissioners tabled Teton Springs’ application for permanent approval of a commercial helipad at Teton Springs to be used by High Mountain Heli (HMH) to offer up to 560 winter-time flights per season. At the September hearing, the Commissioners requested several pieces of additional information, including:
- Real time GPS flight tracking to be provided by Teton Springs
- A 0.5mi no-fly zone established around the bald eagle nest
- Written determination from the Teton Springs HOA and their attorney that the proposed commercial heliskiing operation was compatible with the Teton Springs CCR’s.
- A list of all proposed commercial and miscellaneous uses in Teton Springs resort
The Board then recommended 15 preconditions for approval and scheduled an additional hearing for Thursday, November 15, 2012 to review all of the new materials.
Teton Springs concedes that helipad site was not “commercial” and objects to GPS:
At this November 15th hearing, testimony began with attorney Sean Moulton representing Teton Springs. He said that Teton Springs was amenable to the issuance of another Temporary Use Permit (TUP) instead of gaining permanent approval through signing a new development agreement with Teton County. He agreed that the designation of the helipad as “commercial” on the recently amended Teton Springs plat was “unintentional” and should be corrected. He further agreed that commercial usage of the helipad should be subject to a vote of a approval by the Teton Springs HOA. Then, Teton Springs representative Jeff Naylor spoke directly about the 15 preconditions of approval proposed by Teton County. In general, he was amenable to the conditions, but did object to the usage of GPS flight tracking. He argued that flight tracking should not be done by GIS, but should be tracked by an Idaho Fish & Game Officer who should be stationed at Teton Springs to observe all flights. He also objected to a review of all of the commercial uses in Teton Springs being a condition of approval.
Then Jon Schick, owner of HMH offered further clarification on the issue of GPS tracking. He objected to the county’s requirement of GPS tracking and suggested that the Forest Service track the flights. He argued that real time flight tracking is only available to government agencies, but he did offer to submit the results from a remote website that tracked his helicopters’ fight paths. However, he expressed concern that this GPS tracking only “beeped” coordinates every two minutes and would likely be misleading. (PLEASE NOTE: The Teton Valley News recently published an article, How to Track Heli-skiing, which reported that the U.S. Forest Service has been tracking the flight path of HMH’s helicopters in 15-second intervals since 2005. This data is automatically exported to a flight tracking website which is accessible by password which is held by Mr. Schick. (Teton Valley news, November 29, 2012)).
County planning staff confirm flight path conflicts with buffer around nest:
County Planner Curt Moore then confirmed to the County Commissioners that the established flight path did directly conflict with the 0.5mi buffer established around the Bald Eagle nest. Flights from Teton Springs would need to be re-routed.
The Teton Springs HOA cannot confirm compliance with CCR’s:
Attorney Herb Heimerl spoke neutrally on behalf of the HOA and explained that he could not confirm that the use of the commercial helipad was in accordance with Teton Springs CCR’s. He did agree with Mr. Moulton that the designation of a “commercial” helipad on the Teton Springs had been an error. The intent had never been to designate a commercial helipad site.
Teton County’s attorney is concerned with additional commercial uses popping up.
County Attorney Kathy Spitzer chimed in that one of her biggest concerns with Teton Springs is that over the past decade, the developer/owner of Teton Springs has amended the plat 17 times. With each amendment, new commercial lots and commercial uses were added to the plat but there is no proof in the county record that any of these uses were ever formally approved by the Board of County Commissioners, or formally approved by the Teton Springs HOA. Many of these amendments added new commercial lots to the development, or in the case of the helipad site, changed the location and designated use of the site to from "miscellaneous" to "commercial" (which both Moulton ad Heimerl agreed was unintentional). These potentially illegitimate plat changes could result in many other vexing commercial uses "popping up" in Teton Springs in the future. She advised the county to issue a TUP to Teton Springs so they still retain regulatory authority of the heliskiing operation, and require a complete review of all the plats and commercial uses in Teton Springs as condition of approval.
VARD and the public offer testimony:
Public testimony at this hearing was brief. Several residents spoke in opposition to the commercial use of the helipad. As a group, these residents had formed a unified coallition to argue that the helipad site violated the Teton Springs CCR’s and could not be approved without the appropriate supermajority vote of the Teton Springs homeowners. They further argued that HMH's fuels and fire containment systems had not yet been inspected by the Teton County Fire Marshal. They expressed concern that inadequate safety precautions had been taken and that in the even of an accident, the Teton Springs HOA would likely be held partially responsible –even though they had never approved the commercial use of the helipad.
VARD spoke in opposition to the establishment of a permanent commercial use, when a Temporary Use Permit (TUP) would better enable Teton County to enforce conditions and restrictions on this helipad site. VARD also spoke in opposition to Teton Springs’ proposed use of the second helipad site informally designated on the lawn immediately to the east of the Teton Springs Lodge. This site falls directly within the 0.5mi buffer around the eagle nest and was not depicted as a helipad site on the plat.
Idaho Fish & Game gives testimony regarding the Bald Eagle nest:
Rob Cavallaro then spoke neutrally on behalf of Idaho Fish & Game. Bald eagles are currently listed in Idaho as a species of greatest conservation need, and are federally protected. He has received several phone calls expressing concern for the safety of the eagles nesting in this area. Cavallaro said that firmly establishing a 0.5mi buffer around the nest is "sound practice" for minimizing nest disturbance, however, Teton Springs' suggestion that Fish & Game monitor all flights is not feasible. While the department does have several years of data tracking the failure of eaglets to survive at this nest, the department does not have the resources to commit an officer to patrol full time and monitor all flights.
Teton Springs' rebuttal:
On rebuttal, Teton Springs’ attorney Sean Moulton stated that it would be difficult and potentially impossible to get a supermajority vote of approval from the homeowners as required in the CCR’s. He reaffirmed that Teton Springs was amenable to reissuance of the TUP and they would agree to waive their request to use the secondary helipad site and instead limit all flights to only the original site.
THE FINAL VOTE: The Board unanimously approved a 3-year temporary use permit subject to 15 preconditions which include, but are not limited to:
- Prior inspection and approval by the Fire Marshal before the TUP will be issued.
- Installation of real time GPS flight tracking system prior to the TUP being issued.
- A supermajority approved of the commercial use of the helipad site by al of the homeowners and the HOA’s in Teton Springs by September 2013.
- A re-routed flight path to avoid the 0.5mi buffer around the nest.
- Flights shall only take place from the designated helipad site; no flights may leave from lawn to east of the lodge or from anywhere else.
- HMH shall assume liability for all harm, injury, damage, and clean up.
- HMH is limited to 14 one-way flights per day with a maximum of 40 days of flying per season (Dec 25-April 1). Hours of operation shall be restricted to between 9am-5pm.
- Prior to the 2013-2014 heliski season is allowed to commence, Teton Springs shall consent to, and complete a review by Teton County of all proposed and allowed commercial and miscellaneous uses within Teton Springs Resort.
What happens next?
Before Teton County will issue the TUP, Teton Springs and HMH will have to show compliance with all of the conditions of approval listed above. If any terms of the TUP are violated, Teton County has the authority to review and revoke the permit.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a very complex issue, so please click here to be directed to our webpage dedicated to this issue where we have posted more information.