Hurricane City Council votes to continue discussion on Sand Hollow helicopter tours

HURRICANE — The Hurricane City Council voted Thursday night to continue discussion on the possible approval of helicopter tours that would launch from Sand Hollow State Park.

Sand Hollow Reservoir in July 2019. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

In a previous meeting in early September, Brent Moser, the co-owner of The Beach at Sand Hollow and proposer of the tours, said they plan to have two four-seater, piston helicopters and would run approximately four six-minute tours an hour. The launchpad would be within Sand Hollow State Park and initially be on asphalt. Tours would cost $49 per person.

At the time, given the proximity of Moser’s proposal to recent issues between Hurricane and the Southern Utah University Professional Pilot Aviation Program, there was some contention about the timing of the proposal. Mayor John Bramall suggested Moser take the City Council out on helicopter rides to demonstrate how the tours would work.

Since then, about a month ago on a windy Monday, Moser took council members Darin Larson, Keven Tervort and Nanette Billings on a demo tour, Billings told St. George News. She said it’s not that she’s against helicopters but rather, her concern has to do with the tours taking place in a state park.

During Thursday’s meeting, Billings said the most negative feedback they’ve received relating to the helicopter tours has to do with people fearing that these tours would further increase visitation at the park when it’s already a struggle to get in. She said she was concerned that during the season, the helicopter tours would further exacerbate the issue of locals trying to recreate at Sand Hollow, who can’t get into the park as it is.

Nanette Billings listens to a speaker at a Hurricane City Council Meeting, Hurricane, Utah, May 21, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

She also said that on the day they were taken for a tour, even amid the noise of the wind, the helicopters were causing disruption.

“People noticed it. Every person on the beach looked up and saw the helicopter. It just wasn’t as noticeable if it was a clear day,” she said. “And if I was on the beach, I would not want a helicopter going up every 15 minutes.”

Moser said they would not be launching the helicopters from the same place, and since then, he’d taken others out on a tour, where they launched from a place near the dam, and it was “pretty much nondisturbing,” he said.

As to the concern of increased visitations, Moser said this issue wasn’t necessarily the norm and has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and the decreased capacity allowed in due to social distancing guidelines.

“We’re actually talking about an odd year, though, that hasn’t been the norm,” he said. “You’re really talking about the last three to six months. Before May, pretty much everybody could get in.”

Moser suggested they allow him a temporary type of permit to continue to test the tours and see how they are received by the public.

L-R: Mike Vercimak, public works director, and Stephen Nelson, planning director, at a Hurricane City Council meeting, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 3, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Stephen Nelson, director of planning and zoning, said that under the current zoning in the Sand Hollow State Park area, taking off and landing of aircraft is not permitted.

“Any type of approval would be in direct violation of the code. If the council was interested in entertaining something like this, there are several options that we could pursue,” he said. “My recommendation would be to make it a conditional use.”

He said they could base conditions on terms such as possible setbacks and flight patterns.

“It would give a little bit more control and provide an extra layer of review,” he said.

Larson said he liked that Moser was being proactive.

“We’ve got another helicopter operating out of Sand Hollow Golf Course Resort without any approvals or permits,” he said. “And that’s a problem. They’ve been doing it and we haven’t even batted an eye, and then when someone comes in and tries to do it the right way, we kind of run them through the wringer in trying to get it right.”

Although, he did say he had some concerns about where the helicopter would take off in relation to Southern Parkway.

Councilman Dave Sanders made a motion that they continue the item until Dec. 3, and in the interim, investigate the development of an ordinance relevant to the helicopter tours. Councilman Kevin Tervort seconded the motion. Nanette Billings voted against the motion. Larson hesitated and then voted in favor of continuing the item. Joseph Prete was absent.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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