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Helipad construction moves one step closer

AHOSKIE – With a few revisions, the Ahoskie Town Council has amended and approved an existing ordinance that will allow Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital to construct a helipad on the hospital’s property.

The vote to amend the ordinance came at the Council’s regularly scheduled meeting held Tuesday evening. The Council had conducted a required public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes at its March 9 meeting. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that meeting was held in a near-empty room, which prompted Council members to delay their final decision on the ordinance to allow for additional conversation to occur.

The major concern, it appears, with the helipad is that the hospital is situated within a residential area. Despite the required minimum setback requirement of 75 feet in any direction from a residential lot, some citizens were concerned about the noise of a medical helicopter landing or taking off as well as the fact that those arrivals/departures occur at all hours of the day and night.

There is also a 185-foot “approach zone” area to consider.

At previous council meetings, options were discussed about the exact location of a helipad at the hospital. The favored location is a parking lot, located off West Memorial Drive, currently designated for use by physicians working at the hospital.

Ahoskie Town Manager Kerry McDuffie confirmed that particular location remains under consideration, but there may be another option.

“The hospital had an aviation sound study done at the physicians parking lot and near the main entrance of the hospital [off Academy Street],” McDuffie said. “Whichever option they choose, a sound barrier wall is recommended.

“It’s now in the hands of the hospital to construct the helipad in accordance with the requirements of the town’s ordinance,” McDuffie added.

The ordinance still requires Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital to secure public liability and property damage insurance [with] an insurance company licensed and authorized to do business in the state and provide written evidence of this insurance to the Town Manager. The permittee [Vidant RCH] is responsible of informing the Town Manager at least 15 days before cancelation or major policy modification.

McDuffie said the only addition to the ordinance, from its original draft, is the town, based on its noise ordinance, may revoke any permit which may have been issued to establish and operate a helipad within the town as provided by N.C.G.S. §160D-403(f).

The months-long debate over constructing a helipad adjacent to the hospital centers on convenience and efficiency.

Currently, when a medical helicopter is summoned to Ahoskie to provide transport that aircraft lands on the front lawn of Hertford County High School, which is the designated landing area. Once the helicopter lands, its crew is transported to the local hospital by Hertford County EMS.

“Since the helicopter crew are paramedic level, they have to accept the transfer of the patient from the hospital; then all are taken back to the high school where the helicopter crew and patient take off for the flight to a regional hospital, which in the majority of all cases is Vidant Medical Center in Greenville,” McDuffie said after the March 9 meeting. “All of this takes 45 minutes, at a minimum; longer if there are any complications.

“To be honest, a patient can be loaded onto an EastCare ground unit and arrive in Greenville before the helicopter can get there, due to all the travel associated between the high school landing zone, to the hospital, and back to the landing zone,” McDuffie added.

McDuffie said the process could be more efficient if the helicopter could land adjacent to the hospital.

“That would cut down on a lot of time,” McDuffie stated. “The [Town] Council has to weigh what’s best medially for those needing to be airlifted as opposed to the concerns of noise and potential loss of property value for those living near the proposed landing pad,” he said.

Additionally, all landings/departures of a medical helicopter at the high school requires a one unit of the Ahoskie Fire Department to respond and stand-by in case of an emergency or mechanical malfunction with the aircraft. That AFD unit often remains at the high school for over one hour per landing/departure of a medical helicopter.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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