Location solutions, barriers discussed at special meeting to keep Chelan Seaplane services

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Photo by Jillian Foster, GoLakeChelan.com

“The whole idea here is one idea, and that is to find a solution for Shane to keep Chelan Seaplanes here in town,” Mayor Mike Cooney said, as he opened the Special Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, to bring key parties and community members together to work toward a solution that would allow Chelan Seaplanes to continue operation on Lake Chelan.

Mayor Cooney welcomed the community members asking those in attendance to submit their ideas and comments on notecards. Cooney also asked that meeting attendees refrain from any negativity.

“I want to make sure the ground rules are set,” Cooney explained. “I want to make sure we do this in a balanced way. I don’t want any meanness. I want a solution.”

On Dec. 1, Shane Carlson, owner of Chelan Seaplanes, issued a letter to the editor explaining that the Chelan Seaplane service would be forced to cease on Lake Chelan. McKellar responded with a letter to the editor on Dec. 5, clarifying circumstances.

Those invited to sit on the panel at the meeting included city councilmembers Mike Steele, Erin McCardle and Ray Dobbs; Port of Chelan County Commissioner District 3 Rep. Rory Turner; City Administrator Mike Jackson; community leader Guy Evans; long-time aviator Greg Stafford; community leader Clint Campbell, Owner of Chelan Seaplanes Shane Carlson, and Owner of Sunset Marina Scott McKellar.

Chelan Seaplanes had been leasing parking and office space on the Sunset Marina property, which also includes an underground fuel tank, but with construction of the development beginning soon, that office space and parking is no longer available. Carlson had been leasing the space on the Sunset Marina property for $1,000 per month.

The seaplane itself has been tethered to floats on a dock on the neighboring property owned by Randy Green. The space had been provided to Carlson, free of charge by Green. (See map below) Green told Carlson on March 31, 2016 of his plans to build a new dock/marina with the slips facing the other direction. McKellar was also part of that discussion and said that it was Green, the property owner of the dock, who gave Carlson notice about the floats that would no longer be available due to the plans for the new dock.

Photo by Jillian Foster, GoLakeChelan.com

Throughout the meeting several potential relocation options were presented by the panel, and Carlson detailed the hurdles and challenges of each location. Carlson’s primary issues included proximity to the city center and Lady of the Lake, protection from exposure to downlake winds, access to fuel and parking.

Chelan Seaplanes has operated next to the Lake Chelan Boat Company, which is on the South Shore of Lake Chelan. The proximity to the boat company has been a situation that both businesses have benefitted from, according to Carlson.

“A lot of people will fly one way and take the boat the other way,” Carlson said. “Our location within a reasonable distance to them is huge.”

Along with his proximity to the boat company, Carlson pointed out that he needs to stay close to the city center of Chelan for financial viability, which eliminated several options that were in the Manson area.

Fuel access was another issue addressed by Carlson in the meeting. He explained to the panel that fuel used in aviation is not the same as that used for boats. Chelan Seaplanes kept their fuel in a holding tank located on the Sunset Marina property. Carlson stressed that any new location must have fuel or be able to house fuel in order for the seaplanes to be able “to stack six to seven flights a day.” For this reason and for reasons of exposure to downlake winds, Carlson stated that Don Morse Park was not a good option.

City of Chelan Parks and Recreation Director Karen Sargeant explained why a fuel tank could not be housed at Don Morse Park. “If you get a federal grant for beach restoration and to enlarge the marina, which we have done, there are stipulations that if you violate them, you have to pay all that (federal grant) money back. So that’s not an option.”

The possibility of a portable fuel truck was suggested as an option that may make Don Morse Park a feasible choice. “You can have a fuel truck but then you run into other obstacles,” Carlson said. “We could identify where the site improvement is and put the tank outside of that.”

“That’s not the way it works,” Sargeant added.

With Carlson identifying issues with each of the locations presented, Councilmember Mike Steele pushed for Carlson to inform the panel of a location that would work in his opinion.

“It sounds like you have a sense of what’s feasible, and really the only feasible location is where you’re at,” Steele said. “But the problem is that is that location is going away. I think what we’re all trying to do is identify a solution that isn’t probably going to meet all of your needs, but most of them, and make sure that you’re in a place where it’s viable to do business.”

“The City only has a certain number of viable properties,” Steele said. “If we offer you a spot at Don Morse Park, which I think we’re prepared to do, it doesn’t sound like that’s a viable location for you, but we don’t have any other things to offer you.” He continued, “I think we have to come to middle on some of this stuff.”

Another option presented for the seaplane’s relocation was the eastern most finger of the “three fingers” which are owned by Goodfellow Bros. Inc. The fingers have been the subject of lengthy litigation with a resolution that would allow construction not yet foreseeable.

“The fingers are currently still in litigation,” Carlson said. “Pending the litigation being done with the fingers, Steve Goodfellow offered that (the east finger) for one year. Unfortunately, one year doesn’t cut the mustard.”

Mayor Cooney added that as of Dec. 7, Goodfellow had extended that offer to two years. “But that’s not even a possibility with current litigation going on,” said Cooney. “If litigation went away tomorrow and if it was freed up, there’s a two-year home for you.”

Carlson responded by pointing out that the offer is still just a temporary solution and relocation costs for a temporary location would be high. “My challenges are to purchase an above ground storage tank and do site prep,” Carlson said.

Photo by Jillian Foster, GoLakeChelan.com

Several other locations were discussed including Fields Point. Carlson explained that in the past when seaplanes were proposed for that location, the Park Service declined multiple times for reasons of mitigating the noise and fuel issues. Carlson still felt that the location wouldn’t make the business viable being so far out of town.

McKellar brought up the Chelan Airport as a location “which means wheels on floats,” but that the location offered plenty of parking and fuel. Carlson explained that the weight of adding wheels would increase the plane’s weight by 500 pounds.

“There are weight limits to the planes, and 500 pounds equals two or three people, which limits the number of people you can put in the airplane, which is a loss of revenue,” Carlson said.

As proposed solutions were eliminated, some panel members explained that they felt this issue was part of a larger problem that they believe should be addressed at the government level.

“I think that this discussion we’re having today may be a precursor to a bigger, long-term plan,” aviator Greg Stafford said. “If you look at Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the National Park Service, the Port, the City and the accommodations that they provide on other lakes to accommodate other seaplane operations, it isn’t just Shane. It goes beyond Shane.” He continued, “In the long term, there are people that would like to come to this lake and dock their seaplanes.”

Photo by Jillian Foster, GoLakeChelan.com

In response, Councilmember Steele said that he planned to meet with the head of the aviation division from the WSDOT once he takes office as a 12th District Representative. “The State’s aviation division is very underfunded, so it’s unlikely we will have a lot of help there, but it is a step in the right direction.” Steele added that he agreed that creating an infrastructure for such services could generate economic development which was important.

Discussion went back to Chelan Seaplanes current location on Green’s property and the marina expansion on Green’s property. Green was not in attendance, but Carlson recounted their prior conversations regarding remaining in the current location explaining that parking was an issue with the seaplanes no longer being able to use the parking lot on the Sunset Marina property.

“On average, my guess is that we would need 15-20 parking spots not accommodating any annual parking,” said Carlson.

Councilmember Erin McCardle then asked, “If there was a parking solution, would the business continue to operate at your current spot?”

“I don’t know, it would be tough,” said Carlson. “If there was, I would say, yes.”

“The city does own a piece of property that would accommodate 8-10 parking spots,” Mayor Cooney said. “I am not saying that we are going to offer it to you, but I am saying we could enter into discussions.”

As the meeting approached its end, and no precise solution had been found, discussion shifted to the long-term goal for some, which is a multi-modal port subsidized by the Port of Chelan County.

“I think this is really an eye-opener about what we are looking for in the future as far as the uplake and the role of the Port (of Chelan County) and how we can look at some sort of multi-modal answers for transportation with the float-plane, helicopter and boat,” said Stehekin resident Cliff Courtney. “The lake is our highway. It’s the only highway we have.”

Courtney went on to add that he looked forward to continuing to work with through the issues with all involved. “I hope that this gives us the chance to open a big picture discussion about the future of Stehekin. We need to look past the two-year solution and not let down our guard before we find a bigger solution.”

(Story by Jillian Foster, GoLakeChelan.com)