Cleared for takeoff: Flight for Life expansion to Burlington Airport OK’d over din of noise complaints
September 8, 2021
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  • BURLINGTON — Putting concerns about airport noise into a holding pattern for now, aldermen have approved a helicopter ambulance hub to operate around-the-clock at Burlington Municipal Airport.

    The Burlington City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to clear the way for Flight For Life to improve emergency medical transportation services in this area of western Racine County and throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

    Although neighbors and some city officials are worried about excessive noise at the airport, aldermen cheered Flight For Life’s plan to deliver faster response times for patients needing quick airborne transportation to a hospital.

    “We would be crazy to pass this up,” Alderman Theresa Meyer said.

    The plan

    Flight For Life, based in Waukesha, plans to lease space at the airport and build a new hangar for an operation that would reduce response times by 20 minutes or more for emergency patients in Burlington and nearby.

    The helicopters respond to serious traffic accidents, but also can transport patients in crisis with heart attacks, strokes, pregnancies and other medical emergencies. Officials expect about 300 flights a year to originate from the new Burlington hub.

    In addition to a lease, the City Council approved a memorandum of understanding and an ordinance allowing Flight For Life at the city-owned airport starting later this month.

    Flight For Life plans to sublease a hangar and erect temporary housing for staff while making plans to build a new hangar within the next 12 months.

    After council approval Tuesday night, Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty issued a statement welcoming the nonprofit helicopter ambulance organization and looking ahead to what she called “a long and productive partnership.”

    “As the community of Burlington continues to work to grow its population and attract new residents,” Hefty added, “enhanced public safety offerings also add to the community appeal.”

    Noise complaints heard

    Located on the northwest side of town at 703 Airport Drive, the airport is home to private aircraft owners and is situated near surrounding residents.

    A handful of residents on nearby Bieneman Road have voiced opposition to the Flight For Life expansion, saying that they fear the disturbance and disruption of an airport growing even noisier.

    Neighbor Keena Vos told aldermen Tuesday that the sound of a helicopter at the airport was loud enough to compare with the noise of a common kitchen blender running inside her home. Bringing the helicopter ambulances to Burlington, Vos said, would harm the quality of life for those already here.

    “You are turning Burlington into a Chicago suburb. It’s a total shame,” she said. “The Burlington residents deserve better.”

    City officials recently arranged for Flight For Life to give aldermen a demonstration of one of its helicopters landing and taking off at the airport.

    Several aldermen Tuesday expressed sympathy for the airport’s neighbors, and they briefly considered making noise mitigation part of the agreement with Flight For Life.

    Alderman Bob Grandi called the helicopter ambulances a “tipping point” for an airport noise issue that has long been troubling neighbors and should be examined further.

    “We have a bigger issue that we can’t keep denying,” Grandi said. “We need to figure out what’s going on out there.”

    Other council members, however, said airport noise should be considered separately later. The Flight For Life operation, they said, is a worthwhile addition to the community that outweighs any such concerns.

    Alderman Jon Schultz said he personally lives near railroad tracks and has experienced noise in his neighborhood, too.

    “We all live by something,” he said. “If you live next to the airport, it’s going to be loud.”

    Referring to Flight For Life, Erickson added: “The tradeoff is well worth it.”