Heliport Fears Seem to Have Subsided for South End Locations

By Seth Daniel

Helicopters are nobody’s friend, unless one is being flown for emergency medical care, and it looks like those unwelcome friends won’t be landing in or near the South End.

Minus medical emergencies, the sound of hovering copters and corporate executive heli’s lifting off from a commercial helipad are no enhancement to quality of life, and so it is that since last summer residents and community groups in the South End began closely eyeing plans for a Heliport to be located near the downtown neighborhoods – with two potential locations in or adjacent to the South End.

South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox said unequivocally last summer that if it ever got to a proposal level for the South End, there would likely be neighbors coming out of the woodwork with pitchforks and torches.

And he was likely right, but it appears the pitchforks can now be kept in the haystacks and the torches can be extinguished as the state Department of Transportation (DOT) announced at a public hearing of the City Council last Wednesday night, Nov. 16, that no sites in the South End – including locations on Kneeland Street and at the Boston Medical Center helipad – are being considered.

The DOT board reported that it is now only considering a location along the waterfront of the Seaport – in a sort of island configuration – and had ruled out anything along the Fort Point Channel and Kneeland Street near I-93.

The potential location adjacent to the Marine Industrial Park would ensure that the current helicopter flight paths through Boston are not changed, DOT reported, and would allow helicopters to land on a helipad either on the pier or a barge anchored offshore.

It was estimated that there would be 20 operations per day, meaning that there would be 40 takeoffs and landings to contend with.

“As part of our mission to promote aviation in the Commonwealth and improve aeronautics infrastructure we continue to have conversations with stakeholders and engage in a rigorous analysis of potential locations for a public helistop in Boston,” said MassDOT Aeronautics Administrator Jeff DeCarlo. “The area we are focusing on is along an existing helicopter route and would be convenient to the Seaport and Financial Districts as well as Government Center and Downtown areas of the city. We will continue to have conversations with the City of Boston, aeronautics experts, elected officials and other key stakeholders as we evaluate whether a site in this area will meet safety and engineering criteria.”

MassDOT managers will be moving forward with plans to collaborate with the City of Boston and create a task force of elected and public officials to hear from industry experts, transportation representatives, and the community, to provide input for the potential location of a helistop. This task force would provide recommendations by mid-January, 2017.

Although there are private heliports located in Boston, there is currently not a publicly owned/publicly used heliport within the city center. MassDOT’s research and outreach suggest an interest in a public helicopter landing area from private companies, medical entities, emergency services, and law enforcement. The issue came to bear last summer when it was revealed the City and the State promised General Electric that it would develop a public heliport near the downtown area as part of its package to relocate its headquarters to Boston.

Already, over the past few weeks, South End residents had begun organizing. On Nov. 1, the Forum put out a call to neighborhood associations near the I-93 corridor to weigh in on their feelings about having a heliport nearby.

At the Old Dover meeting on Nov. 15, a crowded roomful of residents unanimously and vociferously opposed any heliport operations near or in their area.

“A lawnmower has a five horsepower engine,” said member Chris Comeaux, who indicated he was in the Marines for five years. “A helicopter has two 16 horsepower engines. It is essentially a giant lawnmower upside down. If it’s a commercial helipad, they will be in and out all the time. They fly at low altitudes with no specific flight patterns…I don’t fly in helicopters every day and it won’t benefit me.”

Old Dover President Ken Smith noted that a show of hands counted a unanimous 30 or more residents in opposition.

Meanwhile, on the same night of Nov. 15, the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association had a less spirited reaction. With very little concrete information to operate on, President Eric Huang said there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm to form an official position.

However, following the Nov. 16 hearing where it was revealed there would be 40 takeoffs and landings, he said that information would have likely swayed members to oppose it or be neutral.

The Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) was expected to have a short discussion on the issue as well Tuesday night, Nov. 22, after Sun deadlines.

In any instance, for now it appears the helicopter assault has been grounded.

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