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Second hearing held on Genesee Valley heliport

The second public hearing concerning the heliport built by the Palmaz family in Genesee Valley took place at the county planning department in Quincy on May 3. Approximately 40 people filled the conference room, spilling out into the hallway.

A Special Management Area Plan was developed for Genesee Valley in 1993 that specifically prohibited the presence of airports in Genesee Valley. The area of the heliport is also zoned agriculture preserve.

A complaint was registered with the planning department against the heliport.

Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson asked the Palmaz family to submit an application for a “transport station” because this was the closest thing in the general plan to a heliport.

The Palmaz family applied instead to have the helicopter, heliport and hanger declared an “appurtenant” (accessory) to agriculture.

The issues involved in the hearing were whether a helicopter is the “functional equivalent” of a tractor or other piece of agricultural equipment; whether a heliport is an airport; and whether the structure built by the Palmaz family to house the helicopter should have been permitted and inspected as a hanger.

Wilson opened the meeting by stating that he will accept written comments until 5 p.m. on May 17. Wilson has 40 days to announce his decision and litigants have 10 days after his decision to appeal to the board of supervisors.

Storage building vs. hangar

Plumas County Building Official Jim Green started the meeting by noting that the Palmaz hangar was permitted as a storage building rather than a hanger.

“The building was only permitted for storage and only inspected for storage,” said Green.

Green noted that although a hangar is a type of storage building, hangars must meet different building and fire codes. He thought there had to be a change of use for the hangar.

Palmaz family

Christian Palmaz then read a statement that he supported maintaining the historic, environmental and community qualities of Genesee Valley and thanked those in the community who have supported him and his family. Palmaz also emphasized that, “The landing site has the potential to save lives.”

Palmaz later added that the county planning department knew what the building, that houses his helicopter, was to be used for.

“There was no bait and switch,” said Palmaz.

Palmaz noted that the helicopter would be used to take high-altitude photographs of his property to help manage the ranch. He said, “We won’t be slinging hay bales with the helicopter.”

The Palmaz family attorney, Brian Russell, then gave his presentation. He emphasized that Plumas County does not have an ordinance against helicopters, that the Palmaz landing site is not a public facility, that the term “airport” is not defined in either the county’s general plan or the Genesee Valley Special Management Area and the Palmaz helicopter is a functional part of the main use of the property as agricultural land and a residence.

Genesee Friends

Michael Jackson, attorney for the Genesee Friends, spoke next. Jackson started by saying that he supported the issues raised in a 17-page letter submitted by Diane McCombs to the planning director.

  Jackson argued, “… use of a $5.5 million helicopter is not a normal traditional agricultural function in Plumas County.” He noted that allowing a heliport in the Palmaz case would open the door for airports all over Plumas County “site unseen.”

Jackson cautioned the planning director that, because of impacts on wildlife, wetlands, and residents’ desire to retain the rural and remote nature of Genesee Valley, “You are going to need an Environmental Impact Report.”

Jackson added later, “If a helicopter was pertinent to agriculture in this county, it would have been used before. A helicopter is not a truck or a tractor. To determine otherwise would require a tremendous amount of discretion.”

Citizen input

Wilson gave everyone who wanted to speak ample opportunity to do so. Over a dozen people got up to speak, both for and against the heliport, some more than once.

Residents of Genesee Valley disagreed on how much noise the helicopter made.

Palmaz said, “We are very responsible in the way we arrive and depart.” One resident, who lives near the Genesee store, said she has only heard a helicopter five times and was not sure how many of those times it was the Palmaz helicopter. Another, person commented that a helicopter makes a lot less noise than some of the motorcycles that go by his house.

On the other hand, two other residents said they heard the Palmaz helicopter coming in and landing at 7:40 p.m. the evening before the hearing.

Many other issues were raised at the hearing.

Those opposed to the Palmaz heliport brought up the amount of fuel used by the helicopter and its effect on global warming, the high price of the beef raised by the Palmaz family and its export out of the county. Opponents commented on the lack of community input sought by the Palmaz family. Other comments identified that the need for monitoring cattle for disease requires being on the ground, not in a helicopter. Others commented on the onset of corporate ranching in the valley and control in the valley shifting from those who helped to protect the valley to the wealthy.

Those in support of the Palmaz’ right to fly their helicopter praised their generosity in funding part of the trip made by local children to Uganda, the potential for economic development coming to the valley, the fact that individuals have landed personal helicopters in Genesee Valley in the past and the rudeness and hostility shown to the Palmaz family.

The benefit of the Palmaz family having a heliport for getting people to the hospital was both touted and discounted.

Reaching a consensus

Near the end of the hearing, several people said that they wished that people could talk to each other and work out a reasonable compromise.

Jack Rosebush worked for two years on the Genesee Valley Special Management Area plan. He credited the plan with stopping the subdivision of the valley into one-acre ranchettes.

Rosebush said the plan’s developers notified every landowner in the valley and each was given an opportunity to comment.

He said, “I sense a new level of caustic energy has entered the valley.” Rosebush suggested that everyone lay out his or her ideas and the valley come up with a new plan.

David Hyde, who was more supportive of the Palmaz family, said that the valley needed a constructive approach so that both sides are heard and the right kind of growth can come to Genesee Valley.

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