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Waiheke Island helicopter row: Locals oppose Obsidian vineyard’s helipad application

Waiheke Islanders are banding together to fight a vineyard’s helipad plan, with locals fuming that constant helicopter flights are ruining their peaceful lives.

Some locals says the problem has become so bad that they now “feel like extras in Apocalypse Now”, saying their quiet enjoyment of what was once a peaceful place.

Tennis star Serena Williams choppered over the island during her time in New Zealandand was photographed at Cactus Bay, while music star Lorde shot her latest music video there.

Opponents say there are already 48 helipads on Waiheke Island.

Now CHS Vineyard, which owns and operates the Obsidian vineyard between Palm Beach and Onetangi, wants to build a helipad to fly in visitors and tourists.

But local Gerda Gorgner of the new anti-chopper lobby group Quiet Sky Waiheke said:
“Nowhere else in New Zealand are so many helipads in such a small area. Some landing sites don’t have helipads, so we don’t even know the exact number of flight movements.

“We feel like extras in Apocalypse Now.”

Chris Darby, Auckland Council’s planning committee chairman, said he shared some of her concerns.

“The intrusion of helicopters is quite considerable,” he said.

“We do have a disproportionate number of helicopters on Waiheke compared to the rest of Auckland, although that’s understandable due to its island location.”

Darby wants Waiheke locals to record and report helicopters flying illegally low over the sea or land – and to dob them in.

But he emphasises that while helipad applications go to the council, the Civil Aviation Authority has jurisdiction over flights. Complaints should be directed there.

They’ve received no complaints about low-flying helicopters, or other aircraft, in the Waiheke area in the past few years, a Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said.

“The only helicopter-related occurrence near Waiheke from the last couple of years is a report of a near miss with a drone in November 2020.”

People should contact the authority’s Inward Safety Information team at isi@caa.govt.nz if they believe an aircraft – which isn’t taking off or landing – is noisy because it’s flying too low, he said.

The minimum height an aircraft is allowed to fly over a city, town, or settlement, is 1000 feet above the highest obstacle, except when taking off or landing.

The minimum height over any other area is 500 feet, although there are exceptions, including aircraft flying within a low flying training area, in agricultural aircraft operations, during emergencies, and when the genuine purpose of the flight required the aircraft to be flown at a lower height – such as during a police operation, the spokesman said.

Mike Sweeney of Quiet Sky Waiheke wants a moratorium on helipad applications for fuller evaluations, assessment and regulatory reviews and says the island has 48 helipads.

The group has around 40 members and Sweeney said Obsidian’s application was of particular concern due to its location and the site’s geography.

“The proposed Obsidian site has unusual and exceptional terrain characteristics, sitting high on the edge of a natural amphitheatre that is known to residents to be an echo-chamber that magnifies noise transmission,” said the group’s appeal for the latest application to be notified or made public so everyone can have a say.

Gorgner said it was only sheer luck that neighbours discovered the application,as these were generally not notified.

“This was the trigger for the group to approach policy and lawmakers to make them aware of the situation on Waiheke Island,” Gorgner said.

The council supplied Sweeney with a map of helicopter landing pads, landing rights, variations to consents like the time of flying and the date of approval up to last month.

The Herald has now mapped points to show those sites.

Two years ago, the Herald reported on who wanted new Auckland helicopter landing pads.

From late 2013 to 2019, the council received 25 helicopter pad applications for private properties, of which all but two were granted: Briscoes boss Rod Duke’s application in Sarsfield St in Herne Bay was at the time “processing” and another, on Waiheke’s Nick Johnstone Drive, was listed as “on hold”.

But CHS’s Obsidian application, prepared by Wendy Baverstock of Isle Land Planning, said flights would be limited to day times and up to 12 single-engine movements during three days or a maximum of eight movements a day.

Baverstock told the Weekend Herald: “The application has been lodged and is being considered by Auckland Council.Council’s position on the application will be confirmed in due course.”

Her report said only minor earthworks were required because a paddock on the 16-hectare property was the proposed site. No building construction was proposed, nor land disturbance or drainage that exceeded those permitted.

Consultants Marshall Day wrote an acoustic assessment report which examined how the helipad could be operated “to ensure that a reasonable noise level, consistent with that required by the operative district plan rule … is maintained for neighbours at the nearest noise-sensitive locations.”

Baverstock said the helipad would be on a “large rural site in a comparatively remote paddock area surrounded by hills”.

Noise effects could be adequately mitigated, less than minor adverse cumulative effects were considered likely and no flight training or major helicopter or aircraft maintenance would be permitted, Baverstock said.

The vineyard’s winemaker said the owner was unavailable to comment on the application to the Herald.

Waiheke’s Lindsay Niemann of Cable Bay hates helicopters.

“It takes over your life. You’re on edge, especially on weekends, because you don’t know when the noise is going to come. You don’t know how long it will go on. It’s the uncertainty.

“When it happens, you can’t carry on a conversation or hear the radio. You’ve lost the quiet enjoyment of your own property.”

Onetangi resident Janet Salas also complained of “the disturbing vibration inside the house with two storeys and all windows closed”.

“If we get more, I will have to move off the island. I’m over my limit of endurance now already, only hanging on because Covid has damped it down slightly. I don’t encourage people to visit Waiheke because the nuisance is so great.”

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