It’s billed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that creates lifelong memories in eight minutes, but a new helicopter tour business on the waterfront is raising the ire of some local residents.
Last Friday, TRK Helicopters began offering first-come-first-served helicopter rides over Semiahmoo Bay using a Semiahmoo First Nation field as a landing pad. Tours cost $55 per person and operate Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. throughout the summer.
But residents who contacted Peace Arch News were shocked to learn of the business, which they say inundates beachside neighbourhoods with noise. Others are worried about the impact on wildlife and the potential hazard to beach-goers.
Carmen Bradford lives at the west end of Marine Drive – near where the helicopter turns around – and said the noise is simply “unfair” to residents.
“It’s too much to expect a hillside of residents, that pay huge tax dollars I might add, to be subjected to that all day every weekend in the summertime,” she said. “I have visions of having to leave my property every Saturday and Sunday.”
Rod Kerr, whose Marine Drive condominium faces the landing site, said the noise prompted him to shut his windows and forced neighbours off their patios.
“We have railroad noise, we have all the noise from motorbikes that go by in the summertime, but now add to that a huge amount of noise from a helicopter – and it’s generated every 10 minutes.”
TRK owner Randy Marks, a White Rock resident, told PAN his operation is “completely legal.”
“I’m far enough away from people, I’m far away enough from homes, I have the landowner’s authority to land. Those are the kind of things you have to make sure you have in place – and everything’s fully insured.”
Marks said he’s monitored the helicopter’s noise in local neighbourhoods and has made adjustments to reduce the sound.
But he said the noise impact in any one location is brief – lasting 10 seconds as the helicopter flies past – and during a tour window of seven hours, flight time is just two-and-a-half hours.
Marks added the chopper noise is just one-tenth that of a train’s horn.
“There are ways that I can try to mitigate the noise, I’m more than willing to do that. I’m not trying to harass anybody. But at the same time I’m working with the First Nations for their betterment as well. At the end of the day they’re making money off their land,” he said.
Claims of residents being barraged by constant noise are an exaggeration, he said.
“I think if it was a pin dropped, there’s residents who’d be up in arms. That’s just the nature of White Rock.”
No restaurant operators have complained, added Marks, and people who’ve taken the tour are “happy as possibly can be.”
According to Transport Canada, TRK Helicopters has a valid air operator certificate that allows for aerial sightseeing.
“The flights can occur as long as they have permission from the owners of the private property that they are landing on,” spokesperson Sara Johnston said in an email.
Transport Canada rules say helicopters must operate 300 metres above the highest obstacle located within a horizontal distance of 150 metres from the aircraft – except during take-off, approach or landing.
A call to the Semiahmoo First Nation band office was not returned by PAN’s press time Tuesday morning.