No helicopter hangar at Mercy Hospital

Chuck Wickenhofer
Due to concerns voiced by residents near a proposed hangar to house the helicopter used to transport patients, the hangar will be built at Devils Lake Airport. Despite Mayor Richard Johnson's statement that the hangar's purpose is simply to keep the chopper out of the elements, and Commissioner Richard Morse's concerns that patients in need of evacuation may be endangered by longer wait times, the commission adhered to the Devils Lake Planning Commission's recommendation to deny a conditional use permit to build the hangar at the hospital.

The Devils Lake City Commission voted Monday to locate a proposed hangar for Mercy Hospital’s rescue helicopter at the Devils Lake Airport, rather than on the north side of the hospital’s property.

The original plan for the hangar would have placed it in a “high density” residential zone, prompting many in the neighborhood to voice their concerns about the plan.

“We were all there before Valley Air Med signed a contract with Mercy Hospital,” nearby resident Kari Hunt said. “Helicopters and airplanes belong at an airport, not in a residential area.”

Many of Hunt’s fellow residents attended the meeting to voice their concerns about the proposed hangar, and their objection was bolstered by the Devils Lake Planning Commission’s recommendation that the city deny the proposal.

Commissioner Rick Morse was the only vote against the denial of the building of the hangar at the hospital, asserting that putting the hangar at the airport would be “disruptive” to the timeline of the hangar’s construction.

Morse also opposed building the hangar at the airport due to his concern that the time added to evacuate patients could “endanger those in grave situations,” estimating that as many as twenty minutes could be added to patient transport time.

John Nord, manager of Devils Lake Airport, indicated that he also worried about potential issues with lag time concerning patient evacuation.

“They always say that the first hour is the critical hour, and I’m not a medical guy, (so) I can only go by what has been told to me,” Nord said.

However, Nord stated that he is ready to move forward following the commission’s decision.

“The commission has decided that (the hangar) is not going to be located at the hospital, and I as the airport manager (am) going to work hard with the company to get it to the airport property,” Nord said.

The commission also voted to deny a plan to install an 8,000 gallon above ground fuel tank on Mercy Hospital property, which will ostensibly also be located at the airport. Ultimately, the commission voted to approve continuing operations concerning the helicopter as they currently stand.

Affordable housing?

Rachel Lindstrom of Forward Devils Lake appeared before the commission to request approval for two 24 unit apartment buildings, which would, if approved, provide more affordable housing in the region.

Previously, the plan was to work with SW Design Build, Inc. to construct two 12 unit buildings. Another change in the plan was the apparent removal of attached garages with the units, which would become detached garages that would be rented separately.

The commission voiced concerns about the request, pointing out that the application still indicated that two 12 unit buildings with attached garages were in the plan.

Commissioner Dale Robbins also wondered about the impact on taxpayers if, in the future, the buildings were sold to another entity within the next five to ten years.

“A ton of taxpayer money going into it (grants, etc.), and if you don’t have some kind of property tax collection, it doesn’t make sense in my mind,” Robbins said.

The Ramsey County Housing Authority, which was originally part of the project, reportedly backed out to direct funding toward maintenance of their current properties.

As a result, SW Design is looking for investors and changing their plan, which apparently led to the new request and revised application.

After the commission debated the finer points of the request, including the impact on taxpayers and feasibility of the construction, Mayor Richard Johnson objected to the incorrect information in the application.

“It’s way off where it should be,” Johnson said.

Despite these issues, the commission unanimously approved the request, apparently reassured that the application would be correctly revised.

Morally sound drivers

Another issue before the commission was a determination as to whether or not Devils Lake Transit, a nonprofit organization, is subject to the new taxi ordinance.

Transit Director Pat Hejlik appeared before the commission, revealing that DL Transit is subject to stricter rules than private taxi services because of its reliance on state funding. Hejlik said that her drivers are subjected to random drug testing four times per year, as well as background checks.

The issue that caused controversy with the recent taxi ordinance update was the inclusion of a “moral character” clause, which opponents indicated was unnecessary due to the fact that drug tests and background checks were already mandated in the ordinance.

However, the commission determined that DL Transit was not subject to the moral character clause and unanimously voted that the organization may continue operating as is.

Fill the Boot

Fire Chief Jim Moe reported that the DLVFD’s Fill the Boot campaign raised $9,146 over the weekend in an effort to help fund a cure for muscular dystrophy.