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For the week of October 4 through 10, 2000

New aircraft ordinance flies through county P&Z

Rule limits helicopters in neighborhoods, maybe more


"I’ve been in aviation since 1969, and I have no idea what you’re talking about."

Lon Stickney, a pilot


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

Members of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission said they didn’t understand new zoning restrictions that limit aircraft landings in county residential areas, but they approved the restrictions anyway—unanimously.

By redefining what the county considers an "airfield" and an "aircraft," officials hoped to address apparent noise and safety problems caused by aircraft operating in neighborhoods.

Before going into effect, the new rules must go before the county commissioners. With the changes getting one step closer to that approval—even with flaws—Chairman Tom Bowman said during Thursday night’s P&Z meeting, "maybe this [issue] will get a little more attention from the public."

Though officials did not acknowledge a connection, the ordinance change followed recent residents’ complaints about pilot Frank Everett landing his helicopter in the Barlow subdivision north of Ketchum.

But the new definitions that would prevent Everett and others from landing helicopters in their yards also threatened to shut down some widely accepted commercial and recreational flying such as crop dusting, ultralight activity and possibly heli-skiing.

Flights needed for medical, law enforcement, fire suppression or search and rescue purposes would still be allowed.

Also, the P&Z never decided what exactly an aircraft is. "Do hot air balloons count?" asked P&Z commissioner Theresa Comber. At one point, Chairman Tom Bowman wondered out loud whether the new rules might not thwart model airplane enthusiasts.

The new rules would exempt air navigation "contrivances" used primarily as safety equipment. But, "What is safety equipment?" asked commissioner Joel Graff.

"It sounds like somebody jumping out of an airplane because their airplane is in trouble," Bowman suggested.

County Commissioner Len Harlig, who presented the proposed changes to the P&Z, said he didn’t know why agricultural land was included in the possible restrictions, and he was unable to answer several of the questions raised. He said that even though he was presenting the proposal, he and the other county commissioners had not drafted it.

Audience member Lon Stickney, who later identified himself as a friend of Everett, told the P&Z members they should get some professional help with the definitions before putting them into an ordinance.

"I’ve been in aviation since 1969," he said, "and I have no idea what you’re talking about."

Later, Stickney told a reporter that Everett actually lands his helicopter on neighboring Forest Service property and uses special equipment to haul the machine into his yard.

Consideration of the proposed ordinance changes by the county commissioners has not yet been scheduled.

 

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