Beach Helicopter breaks ground on Hwy. 98

Matt Algarin
Located between Longhorn Steakhouse and BankTrust, Beach Helicopter plans to offer sightseeing tours from a helipad along U.S. Hwy. 98 and Commons Drive shortly after its anticipated opening date near Christmas.

After months of uncertainty, citizen outrage and public hearings, Beach Helicopter has broken ground on its tourism helicopter operation.

“It’s been a long, hard road but we are excited to open,” said Kim Langford, owner of Beach Helicopter.

Soon to be located on a parcel of land between BankTrust and Longhorn Steakhouse, Beach Helicopter will offer residents helicopter tours along the Emerald Coast. Flights will take off and land from a 6,000-square-foot helipad on the property.

Since submitting their application for a development order, Beach Helicopter has come under scrutiny from area residents, who were concerned with the safety of helicopters taking off and landing near their homes along Commons Drive.

Kelly Plantation resident Don Schroeder filed a petition against the development order, citing noise, noxious fumes and sand and dirt that would be blown around from the helicopters taking off and landing.

“I think it’s a safety issue,” Schroeder told The Log at the time. “There are quite a few people who are not happy about this.”

After meeting with representatives from Beach Helicopter and the local community, members of the Okaloosa County Planning Commission made a recommendation to County Commissioners that the application be denied, citing “safety” concerns, despite the fact that county Planning Manager Terry Jernigan had told them that they couldn’t deny the application because “we have determined this proposal meets our development code.”

Those words by Jernigan rang true when county commissioners met to discuss the development order application in August.

After three hours of testimony, commissioners voted 4-1, with Commissioner David Parisot voting against, to approve the project, saying the county had no legal basis to deny the application.

With construction under way, Beach Helicopter plans to be open and offering tours by Christmas.

Despite all of the controversy, Langford says she has no hard feelings about the reaction her company has received so far.

“We want to be good neighbors and be totally respectful of everyone in the community,” she said.

While Beach Helicopter is making progress, other helicopter companies are currently under a county-imposed moratorium until December. The moratorium, which was enacted by county officials in June, was issued for 180 days, preventing new permits and development order applications for tourism helicopters companies.

The moratorium ultimately forced rival helicopter company Timberview out of their Destin Commons base of operations. They now fly their red helicopters out of the airport but regularly land on a specially outfitted barge on Crab Island. Timberview could be seen taking off and landing from a barge in the Destin harbor during the Seafood Festival