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Council looks at lifting helicopter ban

TALENT - City Council members appear to support returning Metro Air One's routine helicopter patrols to the skies over town with new restrictions.

However, a local police chief and Metro Air One board member sees a few problems with an advisory group's recommendations.

If time allows, the council will review recommendations made by the Police Helicopter Advisory Committee (PHAC) at the end of a Wednesday study session. The council is likely to make a final decision Nov. 7.

Metro Air One is a "cooperative air support unit" formed in 1997 by local police agencies to help officers on the ground. The helicopter has patrolled Talent and six other communities in the Rogue Valley, helping with felony and misdemeanor arrests, search and rescue operations, and fire spotting.

The City Council voted July 2 to suspend routine patrols over Talent after 57 residents signed a petition complaining of noise, use of the spotlight, and claims of unsafe flying. An advisory committee was formed and came up with a recommendation to resume patrols with certain conditions.

The conditions would restrict the helicopter's routine patrol area to northeast of Highway 99, raise its minimum altitude to 1,500 feet in the day and 2,200 feet at night, and limit the use of the spotlight. PHAC also recommends that the committee continue meeting to consider future complaints and review the overall service within 90 days.

Councilwoman Jodi Yap said she'll probably vote for it.

"I think what they're doing is a compromise for everyone," she said, adding that she likes the idea of keeping the committee together. "I think it's important that people still have a voice."

PHAC member Kim Cower said she's happy about the recommendation.

"As long as the 90-day thing is still in there and we're allowed to change it if it's not working for some people, I'm OK with it," she said. "I think people have a right to decide how their homes are going to be in the evening."

Central Point police Chief Mike Sweeney, a Metro Air One board member, said he appreciates PHAC's efforts - but he has concerns.

"Restricting the patrol area is the one part of the agreement that is of the most concern to the board of directors," he said. "That's a pretty narrow corridor to ask a helicopter to maneuver in. Also, that corridor is right in the flight path of commercial airlines."

He's also concerned about forcing the helicopter to fly higher, saying that "compromises our effectiveness."

Sweeney said he's looking for a workable compromise.

"We appreciate what they're doing here and we'll do our best to be good neighbors," he said.

The council's study session will be at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday in the Talent Community Center on East Main Street.