City, county draft letters to Army Corps of Engineers opposing Timberview helipads (LIVEBLOG)

Matt Algarin
A helicopter approaches a floating platform in Destin’s East Pass on Wednesday morning.

City and county leaders unanimously voted to send letters to the Army Corps of Engineers voicing their concern about helicopter tourism flights in Destin.

"We now have a company that is requesting permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to put a floating barge in three areas of Destin harbor, East Pass and Choctawhatchee Bay in the vicinity of Crab Island,” Destin Councilman Jim Wood said Monday after initiating a vote to add the item to the agenda at the last minute.

The next day at a County Commission meeting, Commissioner David Parisot told his colleagues that the areas proposed in the Army Corps of Engineers application are highly populated.

"My golly, there can't be a more congested area to plop this barge where there is the potential for an accident to happen with people," Parisot said.

"I don't know what their thinking is on that," he added. "I see considerable safety issues, not only for our residents, but for our tourists with these Timberview operations."

As for the city and county's latest actions, Timberview owner Justin Johnson said he has no plans to change his course of action.

"We're doing what we are supposed to be doing with the permits," he said. "The corps has a process for this…"

Currently, Timberview Helicopters has an "after the fact" permit filed with the Army Corps of Engineers requesting to permit a floating platform for use as a helipad and for docking as part of the company's sightseeing tour operations.

The platform, which is a common sight in Destin harbor, is a non-motorized barge with an elevated steel frame, and a timber-decking helipad built 12-feet above the lower deck, according to information from the Army Corps of Engineers. The platform is rotated between three designated sites and anchored down by two 800-pound anchors to adhere to FAA regulations that restrict helicopter operations on floating landing areas.

As part of the city's letter, they address city specific land use and zoning, specifically "scenic and sightseeing transportation," which is only permitted to operate within the airport zoning district.

"Like Okaloosa County, the city is currently evaluating the need to further amend land development regulations to ensure 'scenic and sightseeing transportation, other' uses are prohibited from water bodies within the city's jurisdictional boundaries, specifically the Destin harbor," the letter reads.

The city also notes that the floating platform has been determined to be a "floating structure," based on section 327.02(10) of the Florida Statutes. Operation of a floating structure, according to the letter, within the city's jurisdiction would require compliance with the state's building code.

City leaders have also requested that the Army Corps of Engineers extends the 21-day comment period that was initially put in place as part of Timberview's application process. The request was made due to the fact that the city staff wouldn't have "enough time to properly coordinate and provide direction on this matter" while adhering to the city's public meeting requirements.

"We are all concerned about the public's health, safety and welfare associated with the existing and further permitting of helicopter rides associated with scenic and sightseeing operations on land, and now on water," the city’s letter says. "Noise nuisances, emergency landing procedures, operational procedures, and conflicts with existing water dependent/water related uses in previously identified and regulated, restricted waterways are some of the generalized concerns associated with the floating helipads in these locations."

The county requested that the Army Corps conduct a public hearing to be held locally at some point in the near future.

To read more about what was discussed at Monday night's City Council meeting, CLICK HERE.