Chelan Seaplanes seeks help in finding new location By Richard uhlhorn

At risk is the loss of Chelan Seaplanes service to Stehekin
Chelan Mayor Mike Cooney called a Special Meeting to seek a solution to Chelan Seaplanes' loss of operating space
Chelan City Hall filled up with concerned citizens over the potential loss of Chelan Seaplane services in Chelan.

Chelan Seaplanes lost its lease on its parking and office space on September 14 of this year and is now seeking an alternative location to run its float plane service from Chelan to Stehekin and other locations.

Because the service has been in operation on the lake for many, many years and is considered iconic, the City and the public are concerned about the loss of this critical service. The City called for a Special meeting on Thursday, December 8, to discuss potential locations that would fit the criteria for that business.

The meeting, which took place in Chelan’s council chambers was not slated for public input. Mayor Mike Cooney said at the beginning of the meeting that, “Some have said we would be taking public input… that’s false. There will be no public input.”

Scott McKellar explained the new marina issues

Cooney went on to say that the issue at hand was an important one for the community and remarked that the seaplane operation is as iconic as the old Woodin Avenue bridge is. “I want solutions,” said Cooney.

Shane Carlson explained his side of the issue.

Carlson said that Chelan Seaplanes offers a transportation service and that he is now faced with purchasing property or finding a safe, protected location from which to operate from. It had been suggested that he buy into the new Sunset Marina that will be constructed this winter into next summer.

“The marina won’t work,” said Carlson. He had originally looked at it, but McKellar wasn’t interested because a seaplane operation would take up at least eight slips, require more permitting and more parking then would be available.

According to Carlson there are numerous problems with other locations than the one he is in. Among those issues facing the business is enough parking and the ability to have aviation fuel readily available. “Fuel is a precursor to everything,” stated Carlson. “Fuel is the issue… where are you going to place this fuel.” Carlson says the plane makes approximately seven round trips a day during the tourist season to Stehekin and other locations he services.

Port of Chelan County’s Rory Turner was at the round table discussion seeking a solution.

Michael Steele said that Carlson seemed to have a sense of what’s sensible. “Meeting all of your needs will be impossible,” said Steele. “You will probably have to compromise.”

Carlson said that Don Morse Park, Manson and Old Mill Bay are not options. Apparently, Steve at Goodfellow Brothers offered the east finger as a location for one year at the same fee as his current location, but Carlson was concerned with the on-going litigation. Mayor Cooney said that offer was upped to a two-year period.

Steele said, “That gives us time to find a permanent location.” Carlson stated he was interested I looking at all alternatives that could handle an above ground storage tank for aviation fuel. With purchase options as too expensive, Steele said the City only has so many places it can offer and they would need site improvements.

Rory Turner, Port of Chelan County, asked about Don Morse Park, but Carlson said fuel would not be allowed there. Parks Director Karen Sargeant weighed in and said they are working under a federal grant that has strict stipulations.

Steele added that there was a willingness from the City, but that there would have to be compromises for the City/Port to make it work.

Greg Stafford told the City that, “this is a precursor to a longer term plan. There are people who would like to come to this lake and dock their float plane and fuel it. In many places this is a public/private partnership.”

Steele said he would be talking to the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Department when he gets to the Legislature, but reiterated that the immediate concern was to accommodate Chelan Seaplanes.

Scott McKellar thanked the City for putting the meeting together. “I want to clarify three things; 1. We don’t own the property that the seaplane uses. 2. We did not give Shane notice, Randy Green did.”

Mayor Cooney broke in and lauded Randy Green for giving the dock space to Shane free of charge. McKellar said the issue at hand surfaced in March when he had a meeting with Green. Carlson was called and Green agreed to hold off for the 2016 season.

His No. 3 issue was that it took nine years to get permits for the marina. Adding permits for the seaplane service would stop the project. He then suggested working with Green until the permitting was complete for Green’s project, but Carlson stated that parking was a big issue.

Erin McCardle said if parking was an issue, that they need to nibble it down and get to a solution. Mayor Cooney added that if the East Finger was available for two years, that would give them time to find a permanent solution.

Fields Point also came up as a possible solution, but Carlson said that Nick Nolan had requested the National Park Service allow them to use that facility on numerous occasions, but NPS denied those requests because of noise and fuel considerations.

Dobbs asked why the airport wasn’t an option by installing wheels on the plane. Carlson said that added 500 pounds to the plane and thus reduced the passenger load and insurance costs would rise. “It’s all about economics.”

McCardle informed Carlson that the City can’t gift property; that it has to be charged at a market value. “We can’t give away property.”

Carlson said, “This isn’t about me. It’s about the service.” He added that if the service goes away, he’s not out of a job. He has his flying service on the west side of the mountains. “I’m not desperate and won’t make a bad business decision.”

Chelan Seaplane's classic 1958 deHavilland Beaver near Stehekin. Photos by Richard Uhlhorn

Mayor Cooney opened up questions to the audience and one person asked them to consider Don Morse Park if physically possible. Mayor Cooney replied that it was problematic because of existing concessionaires. “We don’t know what we are looking at yet.”

Stafford brought up Brooks-Seaplanes in Coeur d’Alene that operates out of the City docks. Someone else said that Manson Parks is looking to expand their marina to include having the Lady of the Lake pick up passengers and wondered if that would work for Carlson.

Cliff Courtney, Stehekin, remarked that he feels there is a solution and that they will get to it. He feels it is an eye opener for the Port. “The lake is our marine highway,” Courtney said. “It’s the only highway we have.”

Russ McClellan also suggested Jim Urness’ property at Moonlight Bay on the South Shore. “I know that Jim is open to financing,” said McClellan.

Past PUD Commissioner Jim Wall stated that any modifications to PUD property requires a change in the new 50-year license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The meeting ended on a positive note that some solution will be found before Chelan Seaplane’s 2017 start up date in March.

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Richard Uhlhorn
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