Helicopter landings in Ivins: Sentierre no; Tuacahn yes

An Ivins resident talks to Mayor Chris Hart following the City Council meeting about concerns over helicopters landing in the city. Ivins, Utah, Jan. 18, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

IVINS — Ivins City Hall was hardly big enough to contain everyone who came to the City Council meeting Thursday to support an effort to stop helicopters from landing in the city. 

People stand shoulder to shoulder to hear members of Ivins City Council discuss what to do about helicopter landings in the city. Ivins, Utah, Jan. 18, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

About 80 people came to the meeting, many of whom stood shoulder to shoulder in the back and even on chairs in the foyer to catch a view of the meeting. They came to respectfully oppose nonemergency helicopter landings in Ivins because of the disruption to the community and surrounding environment.

In addition to those who attended, Mayor Chris Hart said he had received nearly 500 emails from people who did not approve of the landings.

“It’s bigger than just the noise that helicopters cause,” said Mike Scott, a leading member of the effort to stop the landings. “Our vision for the city is that it’s a serene and peaceful environment. You go hiking up in Padre Canyon and a helicopter comes roaring in — you want to be looking at nature, not machines flying all over.”

The two main sources of helicopter landings in Ivins have been Tuacahn Center for the Arts and Sentierre resort.

A city zoning ordinance that became effective in 2005 prevents helicopters from landing in the city. However, because Tuacahn has been flying special guests to its premises on helicopters since it opened in 1995, it can continue to do so, said Dale Coulam, Ivins city manager and city attorney.

“It is my opinion that from 2005 to the present and into the future, Tuacahn has what is called a legal nonconforming use, or in layman’s terms, a grandfathered use,” Coulam said.   

However, Sentierre will not be allowed to fly helicopters to its property or use Tuacahn’s property for landing helicopters because that would increase the amount of helicopters landing at Tuacahn.

People wait outside Ivins City Hall to attend the City Council meeting at which the issue of helicopter landings in the city was discussed. Ivins, Utah, Jan. 18, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

City Council members agreed with Coulam’s legal opinion. The only exception would be for emergency, medical or search and rescue helicopters.

Council also agreed that if a company or organization wants to fly helicopters in and out of Ivins, it would have to submit an application to the city and pay for an environmental study to determine the effect of the flights.

City Council will not be pursuing a further ordinance on helicopter use in the city.

“Were someone to approach the city to have the ordinance changed, we would no doubt require that they provide evidence that they would not impact the city negatively it we were to allow that,” Hart said.

Scott said the council’s discussion was overall disappointing and not productive. 

“We’re really looking for the city to be bold, to be leaders and to take the position that we have that we want to prohibit helicopter landings in the city,” Scott said.

If City Council members wanted to really make a difference, Scott said, they would take action to make sure no helicopters were flown around the city except the occasional one to and from Tuacahn.

He added that council should have also pushed for specific rules for how Tuacahn can fly its helicopters to keep them accountable.

“If Tuacahn is allowed in, we need to define the flight path they are allowed to take,” Scott said.

Members of the Ivins City Council discuss helicopter landings in the city. Ivins, Utah, Jan. 18, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

When crossing sensitive lands like Snow Canyon State Park, Scott said, there are rules that state the helicopters must be 2,000 feet above ground level.

“The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) don’t enforce these rules,” Scott said. “The city of Ivins could enforce these rules. We’re missing a huge opportunity to make sure Tuacahn is doing things the right way.”

Councilwoman Jenny Johnson raised the issue of helicopters used occasionally for training with the fire department and military helicopters that sometimes visit the elementary school in Ivins for educational purposes for the children.

“I do feel bad that we may no longer have training, we may no longer have visits from military helicopters to the elementary school,” Johnson said. “That’s what makes me sad.”

Helicopters landing in Ivins for the public benefit like education for elementary school children should be allowed, Scott said, but the ordinance should be fixed and amended to include those exceptions and stricter rules for helicopters at Tuacahn.

“If the City Council isn’t going to budge, I’m not sure yet what the next step is,” Scott said. “I’m stopping the effort (against helicopter landings) right now until 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. But then I’m back at it. This is just the beginning for me.”  

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  • brianscott January 19, 2018 at 6:35 am

    Shame on Chris Hart and the city council. 500 people write to say they are against helicopters and the response is essentially “too bad”. Mayor Hart never seems to say no to anything Tuacahn wants, even if it’s harmful to the citizens of the city. How is Sentierre going to get their rich customers to their exclusive resort since Sentierre has previously said some of their customers will only come if they can use helicopters to get directly to the resort? (Apparently it’s beneath them ride in a limo for the 20 minute ride from the St. George airport). Many believe that Sentierre will use Tuacahn for their helicopter landings, even if the city has said no. Kevin Smith will probably just lie and say these people wanted to visit Tuacahn. Ivins has a real and serious problem with enforcing existing laws. You call the police, only to be told that they only enforce “criminal” violations. The city’s code enforcement efforts are a joke. Ivins Police can issue citations for ANY violation of ANY law or ordinance, but they choose not to. I hope the 500 that wrote emails to Chris Hart won’t give up. Ivins is having “neighborhood” meetings soon. These 500 people should show up at every neighborhood meeting and let Mr. Hart and the city manager know that their job is to serve the citizens of Ivins.

    • MikeS January 19, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      And it was actually 614 people

      • Sunfun88 January 21, 2018 at 6:36 pm

        A half dozen landings at Tuacahn a year is nothing. You seem to have something against Tuacahn. Are you a disgruntled former employee by chance?

  • utahdiablo January 19, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Tuacahn is going to hell with the condo building these now as the new “Gateway” to the magic of the valley….nothing but greed bulldozing down all of southern Utah…your going to love the new inproved southern California and the smog, ……have you noticed the smog in the air now?

    • cv_t-bird January 19, 2018 at 12:48 pm

      I like to call it California to the North. Now that they’ve destroyed California, they have to go somewhere else & unfortunately somebody put St. George on their radar so we’re the next victims. The greed and building will not stop unless the residents of this town do something about it. Every day I drive around this town the song about paving paradise to put up a parking lot becomes more and more true, they truly are paving paradise.

  • Hans January 19, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    If one plays the long game one has at least to make sure that none of them get re-elected. That should be fairly easy. I also would really like to know who on the council it was that called the people concerned about this matter “uneducated” and “uninformed”. Then we can start with that so-called representative of the people.

  • snowflake1 January 19, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    What’s the deal with people and helicopters? Jeez the make as much noise as any other gas powered machines. Anyways. Ivins could still be a trailer park next to Mr Ts.

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