Vail Daily column: Helipad site affects neighbors
Ryan Summerlin September 13, 2013
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report. We publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town. The newsletter electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at www.vailhome owners.com.
At another recent open meeting, officials of the Vail Valley Medical Center said that it intends to relocate its helicopter landing operation to a location immediately adjacent to residential buildings. The medical center has provided no evidence that such relocation would be a safer alternative or that patient safety warrants the move.
The town of Vail oversees the existing emergency heliport, which is so designated because it is to serve all types of “emergencies,” not just medical emergencies. This is the community’s only helipad, which is located on a portion of federal Interstate 70 land in the state administered Colorado Department of Transportation right-of-way adjacent to the Municipal Building complex and immediately across the street (South Frontage Road) from the medical center. It was allowed to be located on federal lands because of its use for national and homeland security purposes providing for other types of emergencies besides medical. The town has not approached the Colorado congressional delegation to gain permanent status for the location of the existing emergency heliport on a portion of federal lands.
During the investigation of site placement, the Department of Transportation had indicated to town authorities that it would approve relocation of the helipad to other sites on town-owned property immediately adjacent to Interstate 70. Many in the affected neighborhoods have not favored these proposals, wanting to keep the current location on federal land because of its proximity to the medical center and the community’s public safety services, which also have interconnection with national homeland security responsibilities.
If it does become necessary to move the existing emergency helipad from Department of Transportation land, then many in the affected neighborhoods would prefer shifting it less than 50 feet onto the municipal complex site. The minor relocation would keep the helipad north of the South Frontage Road and maintain the greatest distance from residential neighborhoods while allowing the flight path to follow the Interstate 70 corridor.
The medical center and town of Vail authorities continue to avoid discussing Federal Aviation Agency recommendations that provide detailed guidelines for the creation of a medical helipad, as well as providing a model zoning ordinance for municipalities so that they can regulate the practice. These guidelines recommend that medical heliports not be located in residential neighborhoods. Residential owners are concerned that the town of Vail has taken no steps through the exercise of its zoning powers to protect their safety or to mitigate the potential for significant financial and legal liabilities in the event of catastrophe.