The question of whether to regulate commercial helicopter tours in the Haines Borough will be on the ballot this fall.
Haines Borough Clerk Karen Harvey certified an initiative petition last week that will ask voters whether they want to establish a service area for the purpose of regulating commercial flightseeing tours in the borough. The proposal would exclude the city of Haines, which has its own government.
The clerk certified 98 signatures; 60 were required to secure a place on the Oct. 2 ballot.
In a 1996 borough advisory question, a majority of Haines residents voted against regularly scheduled helicopter tours. Initiative sponsor Peter Enticknap, a real estate broker, said the new measure would be binding if approved.
"In the last year, tour operators from Juneau have come here to conduct helicopter skiing and they've argued the vote doesn't apply to them. It's upset a lot of folks," he said.
Haines has city and borough governments. The city of Haines' tourism planning committee has been in negotiations this summer with community residents about managing helicopter skiing. Enticknap said the ballot initiative would put the borough on solid legal ground.
"The difficulty is that the city has neither the authority or jurisdiction to regulate outside city boundaries. People in the borough are not participating in the process. It's in the borough where most of the impacts are felt," he said.
City Council member Chip Lende, who heads the tourism planning committee, said the panel is refining a list of draft recommendations about helicopter skiing that would set limits on operating days and the season along with areas that might be excluded from helicopter use. The committee's next meeting is Friday and the recommendations will be forwarded to the Haines City Council for consideration, Lende said.
The city is involved in the issue because Haines has what's called a third-class borough and doesn't have the authority to control helicopter skiing or tours, Lende said.
"If the borough wasn't a third-class borough, we wouldn't have a committee. We would want the borough to make a recommendation," Lende said.
Lende said a borough representative sits on the tourism advisory committee and borough residents have been involved in discussions. The committee isn't addressing the issue of all helicopter tours, just heliskiing, he said.
"That's the crux of it. We're trying to draft something to encourage one use while discouraging another. The impacts are very different," he said.
Under the ballot initiative, a new borough service area board would have the power to permit commercial helicopter tours, prohibit landings of new flightseeing tours and regulate the number of tours, hours of operation and landing locations. The proposal would not apply to fixed-wing aircraft, search-and-rescue operations or one-time events. Someone who violated the new regulations could face a $1,000 fine.
Without helicopter tourism, initiative sponsor Enticknap said Haines can be marketed as a "quiet alternative."
'People appreciate the fact that we're unique, traditional small-town Alaska. It offers benefits in marketing to tourists," he said.
The owners of Haines heliskiing operator Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures have said there is room in Haines for limited helicopter skiing and their business has a small impact during the off-season.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.
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