Monday, July 22, 2013

Myrtle Beach residents still complain of noise from helicopter tour company, legal battle continues

MYRTLE BEACH — Resident Rick Hinde is still waiting for relief from a popular tourist attraction that he says interrupts the peace in his neighborhood.

As Helicopter Adventures’ business takes off during its second summer season at a launching pad off 21st Avenue North behind NASCAR SpeedPark and near Hinde’s neighborhood, Hinde’s frustration with the noise from the helicopters continues to grow.

“It’s just gotten worse, as I anticipated,” Hinde said this week after Horry County leaders talked about the beach’s other helicopter business. “It’s nonstop. He’s going in and out all day. It’s hundreds of flights a day. It’s really a shame to have to hear helicopters roaring all day long.”

Freddie Rick, owner of Helicopter Adventures, said shortly after starting the operation in May 2012 that he changed the flight routes to fly away from the neighborhood and followed the proper process before opening. He has said the company has tried to be a good neighbor.

It’s been a little more than a year since Helicopter Adventures opened in the Myrtle Beach area, and the legal battle between it and Hinde continues. The case over whether the helicopter business is allowed through the zoning in the area is in the early stages at the S.C. Court of Appeals.

The question in the legal battle isn’t about the noise, but whether the helicopter tour company is a permitted use in the county’s amusement-commercial zoning. The Horry County zoning administrator said before Helicopter Adventures opened that it is, then the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals said it isn’t.

An Horry County judge ruled in January that it is allowed in that zoning and a month later declined Hinde’s request to reconsider that ruling. Hinde appealed to the S.C. Court of Appeals. No hearing date has been set. Horry County had been a party in the case against Helicopter Adventures, but opted not to continue to the S.C. Court of Appeals.

A year after the height of debate over Helicopter Adventures, Horry County is in talks with the area’s other helicopter tour business over noise concerns as it negotiates lease terms with Huffman Helicopters for its spot on property at Myrtle Beach International Airport, which the county owns. Huffman said it now will only fly routes over the oceanfront and has changed its name to Oceanfront Helicopters to reflect that.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus told The Sun News last week that he has compassion for those living under helicopter flight patterns. A third helicopter tour business has expressed interest in setting up potentially three more operations along the Grand Strand, though no paperwork had been filed with the county as of early last week.

“You can’t go down Highway 17 without seeing helicopters,” Lazarus said. “We’re inundated by them. We’ve got to do something... We have to protect our citizens and start moving forward with something, because this is getting out of control.”

Hinde attended Tuesday’s Horry County Council meeting just to hear the discussion about Huffman Helicopters. He’s not sure that the talks could lead to any relief for him and his neighbors, but he’s still urging County Council members to take some kind of action to remedy what he refers to as an “airport” near his house.

“It’s a good start to start considering the effects of helicopters,” Hinde said. “It’s something the county could control and it has no business going in an urban area.”