Group eyes helicopter landing spot

THE ISSUE

During a Tuesday meeting with the Columbia County Commission, Gold Cross/AirMed asked the group to rezone about four acres at 4328 Wheeler Road for use as an office, ambulance bay and landing zone for at least one of the company's two rescue helicopters. The helicopters operate from a site at Doctors Hospital.

OPPONENTS

Ed Smith, the co-owner of Adventure Crossing, which neighbors the proposed Gold Cross site, told commissioners the noise levels would be too great for children using his facility.

The decibel-level generated by a single-rotor helicopter is akin to a busy city street and slightly less than a chain saw, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mr. Smith also expressed concerns that his property might be used as an emergency landing area should the helicopter malfunction, which he said might endanger his customers. Too many power lines cross Wheeler Road, the proposed path AirMed officials said they would use for the majority of the entrances to and exits from the site, to safely land a helicopter in case of an emergency, Mr. Smith added.

Another neighboring land owner, Steve Clifton, expressed concern that the proposed landing area for the helicopter is too small and comes too close to his shared easement and a metal building.

PROPONENTS

Doctors Hospital personnel have not made any noise complaints to AirMed regarding the helicopter, said Willard Hogan, a realtor for Meybohm Commercial Property, which is handling the land sale.

AirMed President Dan Gates said his company could not use the Wheeler Road property without FAA approval. He said he is "100 percent" positive AirMed will get that approval.

AirMed chief pilot Todd Hatfield said he and his pilots always are conscious of their surroundings and typically avoid areas of large crowds. But, he said, helicopters fly daily above congested urban areas, and it is an accepted factor of his business.

Also, AirMed pilots are trained in emergency landings and are skilled at avoiding power lines and structures, Mr. Hatfield said.

DECISION

The Columbia County Commission unanimously agreed to the rezoning with some stipulations:

- The FAA must approve the site

- Gold Cross/AirMed must show FAA approval of flight operations following Wheeler Road

- The landing area for the helicopter must not cross into the access easement jointly used by the neighboring property to the east

- The company must erect a fence around the property to limit wind shears generated by the aircraft's rotors

- And it must provide a log of flight takeoffs and landing times for the past 60 days.

-- Compiled by Donnie Fetter