Helicopter concerns voiced to commission

MARQUETTE – Residents concerned about a new Marquette General Hospital helicopter landing pad being located near their neighborhood voiced their opinions to the Marquette City Commission Monday.

MGH announced Thursday it added a helicopter to its fleet of emergency vehicles, with the helicopter stationed at the Delta County Airport in Escanaba. It is owned and operated by air ambulance service provider Valley Med Flight, which is based in Grand Forks, N.D., but operates a fixed-wing air medical base in iron Mountain.

One of the sites the hospital is considering for a landing pad is on MGH-owned land at the corner of Seventh and Magnetic streets.

Hospital staff has indicated the air ambulance would greatly decrease response time and provide help to local first responders, EMS, firefighters and law enforcement.

However, Nancy Beukema, who lives at 1111 N. Seventh St., voiced her concerns to the commission Monday.

“Neighbors were never informed about the MGH heliport plan,” she said. “We felt completely left out of the process.”

Beukema said neighbors want to schedule a meeting with city officials and staff as well as hospital representatives and see existing plans to learn more details, such as landing safety, traffic disruption, flight approach and regulations, effects on neighborhood property values, the estimated number of flights and noise control.

“We are first and foremost upset that such a plan has moved so far without any consideration for our rights to be informed,” Beukema said. “We learned about the plan from a neighbor who overhead a conversation of Marquette General Hospital staff people while being treated in the emergency room. That was three weeks ago.”

Susan Hewitt, who lives at 701 W. Magnetic St., said the flight route should be considered carefully. Her husband Bob said neighbors aren’t against saving lives, but are against the pad being located 100 feet from their homes.

“If it’s a done deal, well, I guess it’s too late,” he said, adding he would have appreciated knowing about the issue sooner.

Commissioner Mike Coyne asked City Manager Bill Vajda about what he called the “very justifiable” neighborhood concerns.

“I need to know,” Coyne said. “They need to know.”

Vajda said staff is sympathetic to the neighbors, with city officials working with the hospital to get through the process.

“So we need to see a little more about their plan and see what’s going on,” Vajda said.

He said MGH Chief Executive Officer Ed Banos contacted the city Monday, with hospital and city staff to meet Wednesday to talk about the issue and create a more open process.

“I know it can create a lot of anxiety when something like this is proposed for an area,” Vajda said.

In this case, the city planning commission would review and approve the landing pad, according to Vajda, who added residents will be kept informed about how they can participate in the process.

Vajda said the planning commission can act on some issues on its own authority, although it’s unclear how that authority will come into play regarding the landing pad.

“I think it’s critical for the citizens to know that so they can for sure come to the planning commission when that’s being discussed, and I think that shows the value, the true value, of public comment,” Coyne said. “At the last meeting, that was news to me. I had no idea a helicopter was coming until the public mentioned it.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.