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Teton Springs PUD amendment to allow the permanent use of a commercial heli-pad onsite.

Decision Makers: Teton County Board of County Commissioners

Topic: Teton Springs PUD amendment to allow the permanent use of a commercial heli-pad onsite.

Teton Springs Heliski Amendment

(Scroll down to read coverage from the 2011 helipad hearings)

After one season of operation under the temporary use permit granted by Teton County last December 2011, the Board of County Commissioners will now hold a hearing to consider granting permanent approval for Teton Springs to host a commercial helisking operation (High Mountain Heli) onsite with 560 heliski flights per season from December 25-April 1 of each year.  In seeking permanent approval, Teton Springs has requested that flight hours be extended from 9am-5pm, with up to 14 flights per day. They have also requested that the helipad site be moved to the lawn in front of the lodge.

Of course, there are many economic benefits from permitting this kind of tourism-based use. However, responsible development requires carefully considering several outstanding issues:

  1. Noise and Pollution: This winter, several residents of Teton Springs living in close proximity to the helipad filed complaints to Teton County regarding the noise and pollution impacts from the helicopters.
  2. Flying off Course: Several Teton Springs residents also filed complaints reporting that the helicopters did not follow the promised flight path and flew in close proximity to homes, posing a safety risk.
  3. Bald Eagle Nest: There is a bald eagle nest Southwest of the helipad site. Idaho Fish & Game (IDFG) reports that although the nest has been successful in years past, the eaglets in this nest died for the 3rd season in a row this winter, during the heliski season. Prior to the temporary permit being granted last season, High Mountain Heli was operating illegally out of the Teton Springs site for the prior few seasons. IDFG will soon be submitting comments on this issue. 
  4. No further review: One last issue to consider here is that last season was a very slow year. High Mountain Heli flew 138 flights, which is 25% of the total number of flights allowed under the temporary permit that is now up for permanent approval. Teton Springs is a residential community that is only 27% built out right now.  Even with such a low housing occupancy, there have already been numerous complaints from residents citing adverse impacts from one season of helicopter flights – even when only 25% of the allowed flights were used last year. If permanent approval is granted for 560 flights a year, there will be no additional review, even if the cumulative impacts from those flights becomes unmanageable for the growing number of residents moving into Teton Springs.
Next Hearing is Scheduled for Thursday, September 13th:  The hearing will be held at 6:05pm on Thursday, September 13th at the Teton County Courthouse in Driggs.

To send in comments: Comments are due by NOON on Tuesday, September 4th. You can email your comments to pzadmin@co.teton.id.us or arutherford@co.teton.id.us. Public comments are also welcome at the hearing. 

To review our September 4, 2012 comment letter: CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to review all of the most current application materials on Teton County's website, including letters from the public, Idaho Fish & Game, and other agencies.  

Here is picture of the helipad site used last winter.

Teton_Springs_Helipad

 

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October 7, 2011 Meeting Report: There was a big turnout at the October 7th public hearing. After 3 hours of deliberation, the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of this helipad on an unusual 4:3 split vote. The next hearing will now be scheduled before the Board of County Commissioners. We will continue to post more information on this page.  Click here to read a detailed meeting report.

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Teton Springs Helipad Application

(Last Updated December 15, 2011)

What's happening? The Teton County Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing to consider amending Teton Springs' planned unit development (PUD) to allow a heliskiing operation out of the resort. This Teton Springs heli operation has already been intermittently in existence since at lest 2004, however, this was all done without the proper permit approvals from Teton County. Now, Teton Springs seeks legitimacy by applying for a PUD amendment from Teton County. On October, 13th, 2011, the Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of this application subject to several conditions/restrictions on a rather unusual 4:3 split vote.  

Why was the original hearing cancelled this last summer? The Teton County Planning Department previously solicited public comments for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application proposing commercial helicopter flights from Lot 8C in Teton Springs during the winter ski season. In reviewing the CUP application and previous approvals granted to Teton Springs in the early 2000’s, it is now evident that the CUP application is technically not the needed application given the specific Teton Springs Planned Unit Development conditions of approval about helicopter use within the development. The CUP application has been converted to an application to amend the Teton Springs Planned Unit Development. The planning department received a considerable amount of public comment for the CUP application, both in support and opposition. These comments are oriented to the basic question about whether flying heliski helicopter flights from this location are acceptable. While this application has been converted to a different type of application, all the comments the county received are still relevant to the basic question and, therefore, all the CUP comments will be included for consideration of the new application. 

What is the history of helisking at Teton Springs? When the final plat for Teton Springs was approved on June 12, 2000, the principals of Teton Springs assured the Board of County Commissioners that the use of the helipad would not be commercial.  These restrictions were then added to their development agreement with Teton County.  However, by 2004 High Mountain Heli was operating at Teton Springs.  The principals of Teton Springs were then cited by previous county Planning Administrator Larry Boothe in January of 2004, stating that: The heliport is to be used for emergency and alternative transportation for property owners within the development.  It is not to be used for commercial or sales use.  Now the use has resumed again.  In their application, High Mountain maintains that this was because the principals of Teton Springs told them all issues had been resolved.  This has historically been a common pattern: unpermitted uses spring up, apparently relying on representations of a 3rd party who is often the developer or owner of the property.  The end result is a round-robin of accountability.  The question now becomes whether the county should amend the PUD to allow this commercial operation, or prohibit it once again.

What is the criteria for approval? In order to approve a PUD amendment, the Board of County Commissioners must make a finding that flying heliski helicopter flights from this location are acceptable in this particular location. Click here to review the analysis contained in the county Planning staff report. 

A brief note on timing: At the previous P&Z hearing this October, one issue was whether the P&Z folks had enough information to make an informed decision on this particular permit. This application was first submitted to Teton County on August 5, 2011.  Because of statutory noticing requirements, it could not be heard any earlier than the upcoming October 11th hearing date.  One option available to the P&Z commission was to table this application pending more information, or even table it just to have more time to deliberate.  High Mountain offered that if their permit was not approved by the start of the ski season, they may begin operating out of the Driggs Airport anyways. This sort of poker playing commonly occurs in the approvals process where the dec
sion-makers are pressured to quickly make approvals.  It is critical to remember that the best decisions are those that are made carefully, thoughtfully, and with all pertinent information before them.  Has
y decisions often create more work and headaches down the road. 

Want more information? Here is a link to the Teton County webpage where they now post all application materials and comment letters for FREE!  Note the 60+ comment letters received to date – many are letters of support from local businesses and Teton Springs employees while many others are opposition letters  citing noise and wildlife concerns.  Also note that Idaho Fish & Game has requested more time from the county to submit their comments on this application. Be sure to read the application documents which also include maps of the helipad location (in the parking lot of Teton Springs Lodge) and proposed flight patterns over Pole Canyon / Pine Creek Pass.  

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