Helipad use in East Gull Lake will be up for discussion at a public hearing Tuesday, July 28, several months after originally planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The much-contested issue popped up last year, when Doug Schieffer bought 9 acres of land on Sunset View Road on Floan Point with the hope of building a helipad on the property to land his helicopter. Schieffer lives and works near the Twin Cities but plans to build a seasonal home in East Gull Lake. He would travel between the two locations with his helicopter when possible.
Many residents in the neighborhood, though, said they do not want to deal with the noise levels or potential safety issues a helicopter would bring in that area.
Neither East Gull Lake nor Cass County have ordinances regarding helipads and helicopters on private property. At Tuesday’s meeting, the planning and zoning commission will consider a proposal to add helipads as an acceptable use to the city’s use ordinance. After going before the planning and zoning commission, the ordinance would have to be approved by the East Gull Lake City Council before Schieffer or anyone else could apply for a helipad in the city.
Under the proposed ordinance, 15 properties in the city would qualify to have helipads if they so choose, as the city would restrict the use to lake lots of 5 acres or more. That leaves 10 eligible lots on Gull Lake, three on Ruth Lake, one on Sylvan Lake and one on Dade Lake.
Anyone with a helipad on their property would only be able to take off and land twice a day, allowing a pilot to commute via helicopter but not give recreational rides. That would have to be done at the airport.
A helicopter would only be able to take off from a private property between 7 a.m. and dusk, provided wind speeds are less than 20 mph and conditions allow for at least a 1,000 foot cloud ceiling and 3 miles of visibility.
Representatives from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and the MnDOT aeronautics department will be on hand at Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions.
The meeting will not deal directly with Schieffer’s request but with adding helicopters as a use in general.
The primary concerns for residents opposed to the helipad are safety and noise pollution.
In February, opposing voices cited three recent fatal helicopter crashes as examples of safety concerns.
NBA star Kobe Bryant and eight others died in a helicopter crash in California Jan. 25. Three soldiers died when a National Guard Helicopter crashed in Kimball Dec. 5. Two died and another was seriously injured when a North Memorial Helicopter crashed at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport in January 2019. Dense fog was a factor in the North Memorial crash, and weather conditions were likely an issue in Bryant’s case as well.
A representative from Brainerd Helicopter Service said he would be concerned about the security of the area where the helicopter would be stored and whether kids or curious onlookers would be able to approach the craft and endanger themselves.
Opponents also cited Schieffer’s inexperience with flying, as he had about a year and a half of flight experience when the issue was discussed in February.
The other side
Schieffer said if he thought having a helicopter at his residence in East Gull Lake would be dangerous, he would not move forward with it.
The Brainerd Airport Service representative said the Bell 206 model does not historically have an extensive crash record. But he chalks that up, in part, to them primarily being flown in professional settings by experienced, professional pilots. The pilots at the Brainerd Helicopter Service, for example, have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours under their belts, with most having accumulated 2,500-9,500 flight hours.
According to the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, helicopter crashes have decreased in the last 25 years. Between 1985 and 1994, the organization reported an average of 198 helicopter crashes per year in the U.S., with 35 per year fatal. Those numbers have steadily decreased, with an average of 118 crashes reported per year between 2015-2017 and 18 per year fatal.
Schieffer said he plans to construct a garage for his helicopter as well, so it will not be sitting out for passersby to see.
In terms of noise, Schieffer said the noise from his Bell 206 helicopter is comparable to a garbage truck or lawn mower.
The Helicopter Association International puts the decibel level of a helicopter flying at 1,000 feet at 78 decibels, rising to 87 decibels at 500 feet. It does not specify the type of helicopter, though, or the noise levels during landing and takeoff. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates the noise level of gas-powered lawn mowers between 80-85 decibels, a range that could damage hearing after two hours of exposure.
Public meeting information
What: East Gull Lake Planning and Zoning Commission to consider adding helipads as a regulated use in the city’s use chart.
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 28.
Where: Cragun’s Legacy Clubhouse, 11496 East Gull Lake Drive.