Civic leaders lend a sympathetic ear after noise from a helicopter tour service that takes off and lands in Semiahmoo Park sparked numerous complaints from Peninsula residents.

White Rock ‘copter complaints rerouted to feds, Semiahmoo band

Tour company is operating within Transport Canada rules, leaving residents upset over the noise with little recourse.

The City of White Rock is urging residents upset over helicopter noise to give Transport Canada officials an earful.

A post on the city’s website says it shares residents’ noise concerns from a new beachfront helicopter tour service, and suggests lodging complaints of low-flying aircraft with the federal authority.

“It’s very annoying,” Mayor Wayne Baldwin told Peace Arch News Tuesday. “But it’s pretty hard for us to do anything about it.”

Baldwin said that because the landing pad is on First Nations land, it is beyond the jurisdiction of municipal government.

On July 22, TRK Helicopters began offering eight-minute waterfront helicopter rides from Semiahmoo Park. Tours operate Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays within the hours of noon to 7 p.m., and the operator insists he’s made efforts to reduce the noise impact.

The company is also operating within Transport Canada regulations, leaving residents upset over the noise with little recourse – other than to complain.

White Rock directs those with complaints to call Transport Canada’s Civil Aviation Centre at 1-800-305-2059 and choose Option 4.

Baldwin also suggested residents complain to the Semiahmoo band, “although as a rule they don’t answer their phone.”

“It’s more a question of being good neighbours. I would be annoyed if I were them and we did something like that and had people circling helicopters over the reserve,” the mayor said.

“In an ideal world, I’d like to see it stopped. I understand their need for revenue, but there are other ways that are less offensive to get it. Even if we helped them in some fashion to get other forms of revenue, we can do that, but (helicopter tours) is not a good one.”

PAN’s calls and emails to the Semiahmoo First Nation office were not returned.

South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts, the community’s representative on federal matters,  was out of town and unavailable.

Surrey’s acting-mayor, Coun. Barbara Steele, told PAN her city lacks jurisdiction to step in.

“While I feel for the residents, we’re kind of stuck in the middle of no-man’s land here,” she said Wednesday, noting Surrey’s bylaw department had fielded nearly 30 noise complaints.

“It’s very frustrating being in a position where you just can’t do anything, but we can’t do anything on First Nations land.”

Even police have been fielding calls, prompting RCMP vehicles to visit the site over the weekend. But Surrey RCMP’s spokesperson notes Transport Canada, not police, are handling the noise complaints.

Andrea Hakesley, who lives on Victoria Avenue, said the “helicopter from hell” was operating “non-stop” on Sunday.

“It’s not fair; it’s not right. It’s complete noise pollution,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it. We’re stuck with it all summer.”

Hakesley, a real-estate agent, said a colleague’s client cancelled a home purchase due to helicopter noise.

“I don’t understand how they could allow this to happen. And every weekend for the rest of the summer? That’s just unimaginable to me.”

TRK owner Randy Marks said that since launching his service, he’s altered the flight path to reduce the noise impact, and said three residents have told him it’s made a difference. The White Rock resident said his chopper is now travelling farther out and higher, and the departure path takes the helicopter farther south before it heads across the bay.

“I’m pretty confident that the measures we’ve taken so far have alleviated the lower street-level noise. People down low are definitely saying it’s much better,” he said. “As far as the people that are up on the hillside there’s only so much I can do.”

Demand for tours on Sunday – the day of a car show on the same property – was high, and Marks acknowledged that might have led to new complaints. Although Sunday was busy, he said flight time last weekend was just 45 minutes more than the previous weekend.

“I do see that Sunday was a bit of a push on the population, so I think they’ll find this weekend to be quite different. It’ll be more spread out.”

Marks added that TRK received three complaints for flying on Monday despite not being in the air that day. He said other helicopters – and “a boatload” of private planes – also do sightseeing tours.

“I think now we’re in a mode where any noise must be TRK, which is completely incorrect.”

Marks said that if demand for tours continues, he would look into purchasing a quieter helicopter.

Transport Canada is aware of the situation and is monitoring the company’s operations in the Semiahmoo Peninsula, according to spokesperson Sara Johnston.

Regulations prohibit pilots from operating an aircraft in a manner that is likely to endanger the life or property of any person. TRK is operating within requirements, Johnston noted in an email.

“If at any point residents suspect an individual within the aviation industry is conducting themselves in an unsafe manner, they are encouraged to submit their evidence to Transport Canada.”

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