CANMORE – As the renewal of Alpine Helicopters Inc. Canmore helipad lease approaches, the Town will be giving the community an opportunity to speak up about any concerns they may have.
At its regular meeting Tuesday (Feb. 4), Canmore council approved a motion to schedule a town hall to hear public feedback surrounding concerns about helicopter noise – an unusual motion when it comes to private businesses and land leases.
The town hall session would be scheduled after details surrounding the lease, specifically concerning the helicopter’s operation schedule, are presented to council at its Committee of the Whole meeting in March, and long before a final decision is expected in May 2021 concerning the lease.
“Today I’m here to get council's direction on the proposed process for upcoming heliport lease renewal,” said manager of faclities Stephen Hanus.
“To provide you with some background, the heliport was constructed by the province of Alberta in the mid 1980s. The land is now owned by the Town of Canmore and is leased to the Alpine Helicopters. A wide variety of services are provided by the heliport.
"Some examples include landing and fuel services for any helicopter company in the Bow Valley, as well as sightseeing flights, heli-hiking, filming, forest fire suppression, mountain rescue, avalanche control, Trans-Alta power line inspections, and back-country lodge support.”
The current lease for the heliport ends on Nov. 30, 2021 and Alpine Helicopters Inc. has requested to renew that lease, however the terms of said lease are still to be negotiated.
“Although the lease at this point will be renewed based on the request to renew from Alpine Helicopters, the terms are still to be negotiated,” said Hanus.
“I would like to take this time to address a concern that we’ve heard from some of the members of the public that we missed the deadline, or made decisions without council direction.
"There is no longer any rush to make a decision before May and there will be a time for stakeholders to provide input in the upcoming months once council provides the direction from today.”
Hanus noted it is not typical to get public input into negotiations with businesses, such as for a land lease, but residents who live near the helipad have lodged complaints because of helicopter noise.
A group formed in summer of 2019 called the Bow Valley Helicopter Noise Alliance (BVHNA) that said its goal is to reduce noise pollution by the increasing number of sightseeing tours offered by Alpine Helicopters. A member of the group told the Outlook in August that it is not an anti-helicopter group.
“We’re not anti-helicopter,” said Frank Liszczak last summer. “This is a community that lives with helicopters, the issue is the dramatic increase we’ve seen over the last couple of years that gives us pause for concern.”
Hanus said Alpine Helicopter Inc. recognizes the issues with noise and have been working closely with the Town on solutions.
Todd Cooper, Alpine Helicopters Inc. Canmore base manager, confirmed its working closely with the Town at this moment, however said it was too early to make a comment on the process, or the complaints.
“It’s too early in the process to see exactly what we’re doing moving forward,” he said.
“Everybody has a right to their opinion, and so be it. We’ll just keep moving forward and work closely with the Town and hopefully get the lease renewed.”
Alpine Helicopters Inc. is expected to appear in front of council as a delegation at its March 17 meeting. In the meantime, the municipality's Heliport Monitoring Committee is reviewing the business operations conducted by the helicopter business.
The committee also plans to meet with stakeholder groups to better understand their perspectives in relation to the lease renewal. Schedule D of the lease, which particularly pertains to the helicopter operations, will be the main area for change. It includes sightseeing operations, commercial operation, flight departure and approach paths, as well as equipment.
Councillor Jeff Hilstad specifically asked Hanus how many leases come before council, to which Hanus replied none in his memory.
“So this is a huge exception?” Hilstad asked and Hanus agreed.
Mayor John Borrowman said he’s pretty sure the lease was before council the last time it was renewed.
“I would argue this lease is quite significantly different in nature than most leases the Town negotiates with businesses,” he said.
Coun. Hilstad also made note that other helicopters fly through the airspace above Canmore, such as STARS Air Ambulance and private companies. He also noted the helipad was built before the residential area expanded.
Mayor Borrowman said construction was underway in the Cougar Creek subdivision at the same time as the heliport was established , but that it was “early days” for the neighbourhood.
The next steps, Hanus said, are to meet with stakeholders in March and April. Alpine Helicopters Inc. will bring its delegation to the Committee of the Whole meeting in March and from there the Helicopter Monitoring Committee would consolidate the feedback received from the public and provide it to administration for review.
In September lease negotiations would begin with administration returning to council in May 2021 with recommendations regarding the lease. Hanus notes these timelines aren’t concrete and dates could change.
Visit www.canmore.ca/heliport for more information on the helipad lease renewal process.