HURRICANE — The Hurricane City Council unanimously voted Thursday in favor of a resolution of nonsupport for the Southern Utah University Professional Pilot Aviation Program and its use of the Hurricane Municipal Airport.
The City Council proceeded to send a letter to SUU on Friday stating that if the aviation program fails to cease and desist using the Hurricane airport, the council will take legal action up to and including shutting down the airport.
This action comes after nearly two years of documenting the aviation program’s activity and receiving numerous complaints from residents, Hurricane Mayor John Bramall told St. George News.
“The resolution basically says, ‘If you don’t work with us or back off from what you’re doing, then we will proceed with closure of the airport,’ and that was what was recommended to us,” Bramall said. “We don’t have any intention of closing it, but we will pass some laws to prohibit them from helicoptering over neighborhoods day in and day out.”
During the public comment period at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, one of the people to speak was Lacee Jessop, a 4-H volunteer who also teaches horseback riding lessons on 700 West near the Hurricane airport. Jessop said it had been a positive experience for 20 years – but then everything changed.
“When we first saw the helicopters go around a lot, we thought, ‘Man, is that Life Flight? What’s going on?’ We had to stop talking because they (the helicopters) were so low, and it would scare the horses, and I can’t even talk to the parents 3 feet away from me because it’s so loud. And I’ve got really good horses who don’t get afraid of anything, but this hovering – you can’t train a horse to get used to that.”
She said the helicopters kept coming over and over. Eventually they found out it was the flight school. She said the helicopters would come, leave and then come back again.
“It’s just to the point where I had to keep stopping – like stop the horse – wait until they leave, and they we can continue again.”
A statement issued by SUU on Tuesday afternoon said the university strives to be a good neighbor to surrounding communities and that SUU regularly provides helicopter search and rescue assistance to counties in Southern Utah including Washington County, at no cost to the local government.
The statement further expressed surprise at the City Council’s action.
Since February, SUU has been working with the City of Hurricane to address concerns about flights from our aviation program into the city airport. SUU has been using the airport for a number of years without complaint, until February. We have made concessions including altering flight patterns, and day and time of our flights. In July, just 2.2 percent of our flight hours were over the Hurricane airport. Considering SUU’s direct contact with the city, we were surprised by the passage of the resolution.
The statement continued to say that SUU is actively exploring the purchase of land in the west desert to build landing pads for helicopter training, which, if successful, would significantly reduce their dependence on the Hurricane airport for training purposes.
Regarding operations of the airport itself, the statement raised the point that the Hurricane airport is a federally certified and funded airport, adding that the city has received millions of dollars in federal funding for the airport’s operations. Federal regulations require that the airport be open to all landings with no restrictions, similar to automobiles traveling on I-15, that statement said.
However, even with these FAA requirements, SUU said it intends to continue working with the city to address concerns.
“Southern Utah University will not insert itself into any on-going discussions on whether to close the airport. That is a decision for the City Council and the citizens of Hurricane, in consultation with the federal government which has provided funding for decades.”
Bramall said they are happy to work with SUU to put a landing pad south of town away from homes and maybe have them stop in and fill up on fuel sometimes. Up until now, he said, the university hasn’t ever bought fuel from them.
He added that the aviation program had some questionable practices of their own regarding FAA regulations.
“They’re using our neighborhoods as test flying, and they’re flying in a pattern. I’ve watched them at 100, 150 feet above the houses, when they’re supposed to be 500 feet above the houses,” he said. “It’s interesting. There are documents, and the neighborhoods have some pretty good cameras documenting what they’re doing and what they’re violating in terms of sound ordinances and in terms of FAA ordinances.”
Put simply, Bramall said, they want to preserve their quiet neighborhoods.
“We may be close to an airport, but aircraft are not allowed to fly over whole neighborhoods at 100 feet or 150 feet day in and day out. I mean, that’s a war zone for some families, so we will pass laws if we have to to stop what they’re doing and to force them to comply with federal aviation rules.”