Chelan Seaplanes formally announced late afternoon on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, that the company would not operate at Lake Chelan for the 2017 season. Shane Carlson of Chelan Seaplanes issued a press release explaining that following efforts to relocate and obtain proper permits and licenses the business would be unable to accomplish the requirements in time for the 2017 tourist season at Lake Chelan.
Chelan Seaplanes, formerly Chelan Airways, has provided air services from Chelan to Stehekin and Holden Village, Washington since 1945.
The seaplane itself had been tethered to floats on a dock owned by Randy Green on the South Shore of Lake Chelan. The leased space had been provided to Carlson free of charge. Green told Carlson back in April 2016 of his plans to build a new dock/marina with the slips facing the other direction and informed Carlson that the floats would no longer be available.
Mayor Mike Cooney said that he first became aware of the situation when Carlson visited him in September 2016. Cooney said that Carlson explained several possible scenarios, said he was going to start searching, and whatever the city could do to help would be appreciated. Cooney expressed that he would “definitely see what the city could do.”
“The seaplane is still very important as far as the iconic of the nature of our town,” Cooney said. “It’s a transportation method to Stehekin, so we didn’t want to see it go.”
Scott McKellar of Sunset Marina explained that in November of 2016, Carlson’s month-to-month parking area lease was terminated to accommodate construction activities at the new marina site.
On December 8, 2016, members of the community, Chelan City Council and Chelan County PUD came together in a special meeting held at Chelan City Hall to brainstorm ideas for a new location for the bright orange Dehavilland Beaver seaplane, so that air service to Stehekin could continue. Many relocation options were presented during the special meeting, but none suited the needs of the business.
“We pretty much cleared the air as to what the city was offering or what we could offer, and we made it clear that we were not going to stop,” Cooney said. “We wanted to make sure that we were doing everything possible to make it work.”
Cooney explained that he was aware of the many needs of the business, including having aviation fuel on-site and sufficient parking. After the public meeting, Cooney said he talked with several commercial property owners in attempt to find something that would work.
In January 2017, Chelan Seaplanes announced that they were in talks to accept a two-year lease agreement with Goodfellow Bros. Inc., to operate on the eastern most finger of the Three Fingers on the South Shore of Lake Chelan. With the property currently under litigation, no long-term relocation terms could be assured.
“Two years unfortunately does not justify the expense involved in setting up a temporary operations location,” Carlson wrote. “Without the security of a longer term on the property, we would find ourselves in the same position in two years looking to relocate all over.”
The City’s Shoreline Master Plan was also cited by both Carlson and Cooney as a reason for the failure in finding a new location acceptable to Chelan Seaplanes. The Master Plan, according to Cooney, “prohibited transient commercial businesses on the waterfront, so it was not allowable.” He also stated that it also did not allow for gasoline.
Cooney stated that waterfront commercial property is scarce and expensive, but said he is still hopeful that seaplane service could return to Lake Chelan in the future. “There’s a bigger picture… longer term fix that we’re working on,” he said.
With the end of seaplane service at least for the 2017 season, transportation between Chelan and Stehekin remains possible via the Lake Chelan Boat Company and chartered services by Lake Chelan Helicopters.
(By Jillian Foster)