Haines moves one step closer toward lifting cap on heliski permits, for one year only | KHNS Radio | KHNS FM

The Haines assembly is considering lifting the cap on heliski operators for a year to see what happens. It’s been a contentious issue with existing operators citing safety hazards from overcrowding due to too many flights, and too few ski runs. But others say it’s competition they fear. KHNS’ Corinne Smith reports.

The proposed ordinance for heliski operators would remove the cap on permits for this season only. It proposed restructuring the skier day fee schedule, require wildlife sighting reports for mountain goats and bears and borough collection of GPS data from operators. 

Opponents have raised a variety of concerns, centered around safety, overcrowding, and they claim adverse environmental impacts and noise pollution. Supporters say it’ll spur growth for the winter economy by allowing more than the three current operators. On Tuesday there was more than an hour and a half of heated public testimony. 

Nick Trimble is co-owner of one of three current heliski companies, Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, known as SEABA. He spoke against allowing others into Haines to take skiers backcountry. 

“Without even remotely understanding the issues of running a business in Haines, all they’re doing is making it more difficult for everyone to operate and creating more conflict,” Trimble said

The changes were prompted by a potential fourth operator, Stellar Adventure Travel owned by Reggie Crist. He’s been operating on another company’s permit but wants to strike out on his own.

“Adopting this new ordinance does not prevent any of the local operators from conducting their businesses,” Crist said.

Mark Kelly is a heliski guide and owns the Funny Farm, a Haines lodge, that hosts skiers who do business with Crist’s company. He says the cap should be lifted, and not risk losing Stellar’s business and clientele. 

“The current operators have had 20 years to impress and yet the industry is in decline. Instead of excelling they complain and blame,” Kelly said. 

At the meeting, Assemblymember Caitie Kirby proposed an amendment to keep the fee structure as is – paying for skier days used, after the season –  for this year only. Operators had opposed paying in advance, as weather and conditions can change leading to cancellations. The assembly agreed, for this year, and unanimously passed the amendment.

“Basically it would say for 2022 only, we’re keeping the fee structure the way it was,” Kirby said. “Basically give them a heads up that something might change next year. And just putting a time limit saying we’re giving you a year kind of as is, because we’re sort of shaking things up otherwise.”

The assembly also unanimously passed an amendment focused on how skier days are allocated, which is based on criteria for “good standing” – removing consideration of economic impact to the operator. 

Another amendment on considering preference given based on an operator’s historic use of skier days was tabled until the next meeting. But that’s likely to generate interest when the assembly revisits the issue at 6:30 p.m. Monday, November 29. 

Source: Einnews

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