BLUE HILL — The Planning Board Monday approved a joint project of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital and LifeFlight of Maine to create a helicopter pad in the hospital parking lot behind Liros Gallery.
Residents, concerned about noise, flying debris and safety, as well as the hospital’s presence downtown, spoke in opposition.
Helicopters currently land on the town wharf, across the street from the hospital. An ambulance meets the helicopter and drives the patient across Water Street to the hospital.
The project will create a paved 45-by-45-foot pad for the helicopter to land and depart as well as a covered walkway from the pad to the hospital.
“It’s really a project about safety,” said John Ronan, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer. Once LifeFlight lands, a patient must, by state law, be taken across the street to the hospital in an ambulance.
“It’s not uncommon to have a 20-minute wait on the pier waiting for an ambulance to come,” Ronan said.
Tom Judge, a paramedic and executive director of LifeFlight, said the project “improves timely access to care. At many times when you need us is when Peninsula Ambulance is most stressed.”
Abutting property owner John Candage said he questions the location and thinks the noise will affect local businesses when LifeFlight lands or departs.
“I think no matter what you’re going to tell them, they’re going to be scared to be in that business,” Candage said. “They’re going to be scared because they do crash.”
Judge said LifeFlight has never had a crash.
Candage also asked about the procedure of taking a patient by ambulance from the pier to go just a few feet across the street to the hospital.
“You’d take an ambulance to cross that roadway?” Candage asked.
Ronan replied, “I wouldn’t by choice, but I would by law.”
Abutter Caroline Worth is also worried about listening to even more noise than she does already from LifeFlight landing on the neighboring pier.
“We are in a residential area,” Worth said. “This hospital does not seem to recognize that. You are eroding your goodwill within the town. I’m woken up every time it [LifeFlight] comes in.”
Board Chairman Peter d’Entremont said he wished the town’s selectmen and attorney had been present to answer questions.
D’Entremont asked about the possibility of putting the pad on the hospital roof.
“It would be a tremendous amount of restructural work, elevator work,” Judge said. Judge added, “If it was up to us, we’d be on a roof every time. The reality is, that’s money that’s not being spent on medical equipment.”
“We’re trying to stay away from the wires too,” Judge said. “There are wires all over Water Street.”
Resident Gabrielle Wellman said she is concerned about the downtown.
“I’m concerned about the life force being sucked out of downtown,” Wellman said. “The hospital is taking over more and more space.” Maybe the hospital should relocate farther out, she suggested.
Ronan replied that Blue Hill Memorial had considered relocating and building a new hospital, but that would be too costly compared with the expense of modernizing its existing facility.
“This isn’t something that was done overnight,” Ronan said. “There’s been a lot of work, a lot of analysis. If it’s [the pad] going to go on campus, this is where it has to go.”
Judge noted that there are other landing pads in the state in much more densely populated areas, such as the one at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.
Planning Board member Ken Charles asked if the hospital had considered building a berm behind the gallery to deal with debris.
“I’ve seen what helicopters can throw,” Charles said.
Code Enforcement Officer Judy Jenkins replied, “I believe Serge [Liros] has asked for a fence to go along the back of his property.”
Later in the meeting, the board made the proposed fence a condition of the project’s approval.