HURRICANE — Zion National Park is a major tourist attraction and a businessman wants to give visitors a view from above of the park and other attractions. But some residents, including the mayor, object to part of his plan.
“I’m just sick about this,” said Hurricane resident Janet Fraser. “I can’t believe it’s happening.”
The Hurricane-based helicopter tour business run by Jeff Longmore is ready to give visitors and tourists a scenic view of southern Utah, including Zion National Park. The city gave him permission to run Zion Helicopter from a helipad at 1150 W. State, largely a commercial area. But nearby residents have concerns.
“We have a quality of life, and we have beautiful surroundings,” said Fraser. “Why do we want a helicopter? We don’t. And why would we want 14 trips over our home? We don’t.”
Most of the residents like the business and the concept, but they’re against its location, city manager Clark Fawcett said.
Concerns about safety, noise pollution and property values have sparked a petition drive and an appeal to the City Council to rescind Zion Helicopter's business license.
“We feel at a minimum that this decision by the city should have been vetted better and more due diligence put into play as far as contacting the residents,” said resident Brian Sanderson. And that's putting the city in a tough spot.
If the City Council doesn't take action against the business and revoke the license, then the citizens can come back and say, ‘You’re not holding to your ordinances,’ and could bring a lawsuit,” Fawcett said.
On the other hand, if the Council revokes the license, the business owner may file suit, arguing investments were made in the business based on the city's decision.
Longmore hasn't threatened to sue, but he said he's frustrated and disappointed that his plans have come to this.
Longmore said his helicopter meets noise requirements. He added that there are ways to mitigate the noise by the way the pilot approaches and departs from the helipad, which all pilots will learn and use. The flights will run between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Some residents were concerned for the children’s safety, because there’s a bus stop close to the helipad. Longmore said that won’t be an issue because school will be out for the summer.
He also said that those who live closest to the helipad weren’t objecting to it.
But there are still serious reservations, even from the mayor.
“I just don't feel this is conducive to have on our State Street area for the welfare and safety of our citizens,” Mayor Thomas Hirschi said Thursday during a council meeting. He's concerned about helicopters distracting drivers.
Regardless, Zion Helicopter appears on its way to opening. Longmore plans a grand opening for his business Saturday, during the busy Memorial Day weekend, weather permitting.
Council members urged opponents of the business to listen as the helicopters take off and land to see if there are noise, distractions and other issues of concern.
"So either way you go, you still have the opportunity to be sued," Fawcett said, "and for somebody to challenge your ordinance."
Contributing: Richard Piatt