An air ambulance service that’s seeking a new base in Panola County learned it must adjust its plans if it hopes to come here.
In order to establish a base east of Batesville, Air Evac LifeTeam, Inc. must move farther south from Hwy. 6 and locate a half-mile west from an upscale subdivision, company representatives learned this week.
The Panola County Land Development Commission voted to table Air Evac’s request, leaving open the possibility that the company could come here if it adheres to the commission’s stipulations.
Commission members Donna Traywick and Ann Cobb voted against the motion, saying they disagreed with Air Evac’s site choice.
Commission members Jewel Titus and Robert Carter were absent. The 10-member board presently has one vacancy.
The commission’s decision is no guarantee that Air Evac will receive a special exception for its plans, however, since the decision isn’t a final ruling.
Air Evac will return in March to meet again with the commission.
An Air Evac base includes a heli-pad, crews’ quarters and hangar.
The company has 45 bases in 10 states.
Air Evac had selected two sites on hilly farmland, one a quarter-mile from Lawrence Bros. Road and the second a half-mile farther west.
The land is owned by Fred A. Womble of Batesville.
The Missouri-based company wanted the eastern-most site, saying it preferred the flat bean field over the hilltop to the west, which would require more site preparation.
In whispered discussion, commission members agreed that an Air Evac helicopter would be too noisy for residents of the Wildwood subdivision. The subdivision is located directly across from the bean field.
During a public hearing phase, Wildwood residents also spoke out against Air Evac’s choice for a base.
"We’re not saying they shouldn’t build here – but not there where they’ll be flying over our homes," said resident John Kyle.
William Sissell, who lives east of Wildwood, asked the commission members if they would want to be awakened by helicopter noise.
"You can hear National Guard helicopters five miles away before they’re even close," Sissell said.
Air Evac representative Harold Newton acknowledged that the helicopters make "racket" depending on wind direction and air speed.
"We try to be a good neighbor, but there are times when (the helicopter) makes some loud racket," Newton said.
Later in the hearing, Newton announced to the commission that any flight plan would exclude flying over Wildwood.
Still, Wildwood residents grew testy during the hearing, interrupting Newton with questions and verbal jabs as he talked to the commission.
At one point, one Wildwood resident ridiculed Newton after he said some of the company’s 45 bases are located near residential areas.
"There’s a difference between flying over trailer parks and flying over $300,000 homes," the young woman hollered out.
Regarding Air Evac’s plans to be visible from Hwy. 6, Newton said the locale is important for advertising and name recognition.
The company sells yearly memberships for its service, and visibility is part of the business plan, he said.
"If we’re stuck out at the (Panola County) airport, nobody will know we’re here – out of sight, out of mind," Newton said.
The sight of a helicopter right next to Hwy. 6 might be too much for some drivers, commission chairman Danny Walker told Newton half-jokingly.
"People like to gawk. You could have an accident right there in front of your business," Walker said.
In other commission business: