Helipad moves ahead, but funds still needed

Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Portland District Health (PDH) is likely to ask the community to dig deeper to ensure the proposed emergency helipad on the Ploughed Field becomes a reality.

It follows the Glenelg Shire Council decision last week to provide a draft helipad licence to PDH, outlining several points yet to be addressed by PDH as part of the planning approvals process, including traffic management and public safety plans for the site.

It is also understood that PDH will work frantically behind the scenes in the next few weeks in an effort to negotiate a suitable way of recognising the financial contribution made by the Portland branch of the Victoria Police Blue Ribbon Foundation towards the helipad.

PDH Chief Executive John O’Neill has welcomed the council’s assistance on the project so far, but is understood to be extremely nervous that the council has indicated that it does not support the PDH proposal for the Blue Ribbon Foundation to dedicate the proposed helipad to fallen police.

He said the foundation, and the community that supported its fundraising efforts, was the sole source of funds for the construction of the helipad.

Glenelg Shire Chief Executive Sharon Kelsey said that because PDH would have a licence agreement for the helipad site, the council felt it was inappropriate to have it dedicated to fallen police.

“The problem the council has with a dedication at the site, such as a plaque, is that PDH will only hold a licence, a licence is not a lease for exclusive use of the site” she said.

“Because the helipad site will have multiple users, the council feels it is inappropriate for the site to be dedicated to any particular group.  That does not mean the Blue Ribbon Foundation and fallen police will not be recognised, but that is for the parties to negotiate and find the best way of doing that.”

The foundation’s Portland branch President Sergeant Bob Meek said he would discuss the issue with several parties, including PDH and the council, in the near future.

The branch has raised about $65,000 so far for the helipad.

When the helipad campaign was launched in 2009 it was estimated would cost $120,000, but the most recent estimate was $350,000.  However, that is expected to fall when in-kind donations towards the construction are taken into consideration.

In relation to the traffic management and public safety plans for the site, Ms Kelsey said both the council and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, who manage the site on behalf of the State Government, had placed conditions on the licence to ensure public safety remained a priority.

Mr O’Neill said the council has raised several points to be addressed by PDH, including safety considerations for nearby motorists and pedestrians, consultation with Portland Cable Trams, and approval from the traditional owners of the land.

“PDH acknowledges that council is acting in the best interests of the community it serves to ensure public safety and to meet its statutory obligations especially given the cliff top location between an arterial road and the foreshore” he said.

“We all recognise the importance of this project to our region and in saving lives.”

Mr O’Neill said once the building permit was approved, the helipad should take no longer than a week to build.

“There is a need to build it before winter,” he said.

“Given the critical importance of this project and the high level of community interest, PDH will continue to work with council representatives and our stakeholders to find a common way forward.”

STORY BY Bill Meldrum, Portland Observer

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