Port Angeles landfill to be site of training with Coast Guard chopper this month
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
A U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer prepares to jump from a helicopter into Port Angeles Harbor during a rescue demonstration in this October 2010 file photo.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Residents could see Coast Guard helicopter crews training for land rescues over the city's decommissioned landfill within the next month.

The City Council unanimously approved an agreement with the Coast Guard on Tuesday night.

“We hope to do our first training within the month, then after that, it will be randomly scheduled throughout the year, maybe one to two times per month,” said Cmdr. Mike Campbell, executive officer of Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles on Ediz Hook.

Residential notification

Surrounding residents are to be notified before training begins, the agreement specifies.

“There are about eight houses nearby, so we would notify those residents in advance of any helicopter operations” by phone or letter, said Craig Fulton, city public works and utilities director.

The city also will make a public service announcement at least a day before a training exercise begins.

The landfill closed in 2008.

The portion of landfill the Coast Guard will use lies just west of a compromised bluff that is holding back decades of buried garbage. The city plans to spend $19.6 million to stabilize it.

Councilman Lee Whetham asked how the training could affect the area.

Fulton said the first training will act as a test.

“If we do notice any impacts, there's the process to opt out of the agreement, giving a 10-day notice,” Fulton said.

Campbell told the council the training will involve one Coast Guard MH-65D helicopter at a time.

Crews will simulate the rescue of a mannequin from the steep, grassy slope of the city's landfill at the west end of 18th Street.

Each training exercise will take between three and four hours, Campbell explained.

Back and forth

That time will include the helicopter flying back and forth to the Ediz Hook base for crew transfers, with a helicopter at the landfill for about 15 minutes.

“The helicopter wouldn't be there the entire time hovering over,” Campbell said.

Councilwoman Cherie Kidd confirmed the number and type of helicopter with Campbell.

“There's no Chinooks, Blackhawks involved. It's just our one Coast Guard helicopter. That's great,” Kidd said.

She was referring to Army training exercises the night of July 11 in which Black Hawk and MH-47 Chinook helicopters from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma flew over Port Angeles.

The training prompted dozens of concerned calls from Port Angeles residents, after which Kidd, then mayor, met with joint base garrison commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. about notifying local law enforcement and city officials about such exercises in the future.

“They're smaller helicopters than the Army uses, and when we had that experience, I guess it was a year ago or so, the sounds are much reduced from those helicopters,” Fulton said.

Councilman Brad Collins, who lives near the area where the training will occur, asked Campbell whether the Coast Guard will field any complaints that arise.

“There'd obviously be an open door as far as communications back and forth,” Campbell said.

“We'd be more than happy to accept feedback from that and take any kind of corrective action that we can take.”

Campbell said the landfill training area is not too far from the flight path Coast Guard helicopters use to fly between the Ediz Hook base and training at William R. Fairchild International Airport.

“It really shouldn't be too much different as far as sound, the noise signature, already experienced by local residents,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the Clallam County Sheriff's Office also likely will be notified about exercises.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 06. 2014 8:03PM
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