Haines considers helicopter skiing

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

As consultants work on a long-range tourism plan and assess alternative heliports in Juneau this summer, Haines residents also are discussing helicopter-related issues.

The Tourism Advisory Committee in Haines has scheduled a meeting tonight to discuss heliskiing. Haines City Council member and committee chairman Chip Lende said the panel will forward recommendations to the Haines City Council, which has been asked by the state to comment about land use in the Haines area. The meeting will have an educational and informational focus, he said.

"We all know what's happening in Juneau," Lende said. "We want to make sure the community is happy with the industry and wants it to occur so we don't have a controversy five years down the road."

Heliskiing in Haines has been low volume, occurring in February, March and April, although interest in the sport is growing, said Shawn McNamara, who co-owns Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures.

McNamara said his company would like to see limits on the numbers of heliskiing operators allowed in town.

"We're against industrial helicopter tourism like they have in Juneau or Skagway, but we felt as if there was room for heliskiing because the town is in dire straits. The economy is not so good," he said.

Voters opposed helicopter tourism in the Haines Borough in a 1996 advisory question and Lynn Canal Conservation Vice President Rob Goldberg said he'd like to see the vote honored.

"We're concerned that it will grow. So many other places have had rampant growth in helicopter tours," he said.

Helicopters intrude on people who are trying to have a quiet backcountry experience, he said, adding some people also worry about impacts on mountain goats.

Lende said the advisory vote is hard to interpret because it occurred before there was heliskiing in the Haines area.

"How do you make a decision that's fair for everybody? I don't know," he said.

The state is working on a Northern Southeast Area Plan and a Haines State Forest Plan, said Department of Natural Resources Planning Manager Bruce Phelps. The plans deal with a range of issues including recreation and economic development and might include recommendations about helicopters in some cases, he said.

Robert Venables, Haines economic development director, said the key is to maximize the benefits and minimize the impact of helicopter tourism.

"The valid point is that we have an opportunity to encourage companies to come in or discourage them. We're looking for guidelines or parameters," he said.

The meeting is from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight at the ANB-ANS Hall in Haines.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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