No Agreement on Heliport

Assistant City Administrator Says District Encourages Aviation Company to Look at Private and Federal Land

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Assistant City Administrator Jay Melder speaks to the November meeting of ANC 6B.

Assistant City Administrator Melder said that he ‘fully expected’ Congressional Aviation (CA) to come to the District with a request to relocate the South Capitol Heliport to the site at 12th and Water Streets SE.

However, Melder emphasized that while CA had expressed interest in the parcel, there had been no agreement from the District, which has encouraged the aviation company to explore other sites, including both private and federal land and sites on the other side of the Anacostia River.

“I can tell you right now there is no commitment from the District for that site or any other site for Congressional Aviation. There is no decision on it,” he said.

Melder made the comments at the Nov. 12 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B.

In August, ANC 6B was informed by CA that the private owner of the current site of the South Capitol Heliport (1724 South Capitol St. SE) will not renew the lease when it expires in 2022, compelling Congressional Aviation to seek a new site. At that meeting, Congressional Aviation CEO Geoff Rankin said the focus of future planning was the former DC Gas Light Company’s East Station at 12th and Water Streets SE.

Melder said that the Office of the City Administrator is cooperating to the extent that it is appropriate to be engaged with the search for a new heliport site, saying the District wanted to be involved in helicopters landing and taking off in the city and that part of that job is to ensure community engagement around the relocation.

“Right now, our relationship with Congressional Aviation is we contract with them to support our MPD helicopter, that’s where that service can launch from, but certainly if we were disposing of a property that would be a different relationship altogether,” he said.

Melder emphasized that the District had made no commitment to CA for the Water Street SE site or for any other District-owned parcel. He noted that according to District Code, the sale or use of land for periods of twenty years or more had to follow a formal process including due diligence and community engagement.

Noting the short time line for the relocation of the project, Commissioner Corey Holman (6B06) asked if CA is planning on moving to the Water Street site, saying that the company had conveyed that impression at the August meeting about the heliport relocation.

“I know it’s not a done deal, I told them [CA] that,” Melder told commissioners. “I’m sure this is their preferred site –they keep coming back to it, and I can see why. It’s an ideal site for a heliport operator. It may not be an ideal site for land use for your community, and that’s a big factor.”

Melder said that he believed the aviation company was looking for properties along the Anacostia River, roughly the path of FAA Helicopter Route 1. “The only preferred option that I’ve seen or I’ve seen them submit any kind of noise study or any kind of deep information about is this Water Street site,” Melder said, before noting that he was unsure to whom or for what purpose the study was submitted.

Corey Holman (6B06) emphasized that community engagement should take place as early as possible, and Melder noted that the job of the City Administrator is to facilitate community engagement on the relocation whether the site selected for a new heliport was District, federal or private land.

Commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg (6B04) reminded Melder that OCA still had not responded to a list of 23 questions on the topic of the heliport, saying that they owed the ANC a formal response even if that was an explanation for why they could not be answered. Melder promised to provide a response within a week.