By Seth Daniel
Choppers could mean pitchforks in the South End.
A call for a City Council hearing into the possible siting of a heliport in the downtown area, perhaps even on the edge of the South End, has many residents riled up this week and looking for answers.
Councilor Michael Flaherty has a long history with heliports and helipads in the South Boston Waterfront area – fighting an epic battle against one in 2008 that saw hundreds of Southie residents come out in opposition. Now, he said he has gotten wind that the City and state, with the advent of major corporations moving to Boston, are scouting out locations for a heliport nearer to downtown – something that is believed to be seen as an attribute by executives looking to relocate to Boston.
The Sun has learned that one of those locations, a leading contender no doubt, is located right on the edge of the South End – at an empty lot adjacent to Kneeland Street on state Department of Transportation (DOT) property. The location is considered ideal because routes of travel for helicopters would follow the Mass Pike and I-93 in both directions. With the plot of land near the Ink Block, Old Dover and Castle Square being right at the nexus of those major highways, the site is considered a top contender.
Another location batted about is near Melnea Cass Boulevard on the far edge of the South End.
Already, the South End hosts a helipad for emergencies at Tufts Medical Center, and it is used as needed, but not in a constant way such as a commercial heliport would operate.
“There’s been a lot of discussion around the siting of a potential helipad or heliport in the City,” Flaherty said. “It was brought up before and then came back when the Olympic discussion started, fueled also by some major companies moving into Boston…There’s an effort taking place now to identify potential locations for a heliport. I think we need to have a frank discussion around exposing the City and the neighborhoods to an influx of helicopters seven days a week…I think there needs to be a discussion of the premise before they are out looking at potential locations…I’m withholding judgment on whether we need one or not, but I want to be in front of this.”
Flaherty brought the issue back to light at the Wednesday, June 22, City Council meeting. Flaherty called for a public hearing, and the matter was sent to the Parks, Recreation and Transportation Committee.
In the South End, the Forum’s Steve Fox said the South End would be against the siting of a heliport or helipad anywhere within or on the fringes of the neighborhood.
“If a final proposal to place a heliport in the South End is made, I am pretty sure pitchforks would be brought out by South Enders,” he said. “We are going to be so significantly challenged by bringing thousands of new vehicles to the South End in the coming years – and trying to say we want to squeeze in a 24/7 heliport in addition is kind of insane and ill-conceived.”
He said they already have plenty to deal with in the air when it comes to early morning airplanes that, he said, are off course and flying over the South End.
“The fact is Logan and the FAA are now sending flights over the South End beginning at 5 a.m. and many of them are significantly out of the flight path,” he said.
City officials indicated that they didn’t have a lot to do with the idea of a heliport this time around, and said it was mostly a state-based process.
The state DOT indicated that they are looking at sites for a potential helipad in Boston, but have made no decisions and things are very preliminary.
“Please note no decisions have been made concerning public helipad sites in Boston,” said DOT Spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard. “MassDOT continues to look at many options and talk with stakeholders. Nothing has been ruled in or ruled out.”
A MassPort spokesperson said they do operate some helicopter operations, but don’t have a heliport in the traditional sense.
“Logan does not have a heliport, although there are a handful of helicopter operations each day,” said spokesperson Jennifer Mehigan. “Those operations and any fees are handled by Signature Flight. Logan’s limited footprint does not allow for a dedicated heliport area or for private aircraft to be based here.”
Meanwhile, Flaherty said one of the big issues that needs to be discussed is why Logan Airport isn’t playing a bigger part in the need for helicopters instead of having the state look for options near neighborhoods.
“The second part of this that isn’t being talked much about is getting MassPort involved,” he said. “I’ve heard that many helicopter operators don’t want to land at Logan because of the fees and the aggravation. Many times they go to Bedford or Hanscom instead, I hear. We need to find out why they cannot play a bigger role here.”
Flaherty said the hearing has yet to be scheduled, but he hoped it would soon have a date.