Port Angeles City Council to have visitor tonight: Army colonel from Lewis-McChord on copter flights over city
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U.S. Army photo
Joint Base Lewis-McChord garrison commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr., shown speaking to troops on the base south of Tacoma, will visit tonight’s City Council meeting regarding last Thursday night’s low-level war helicopter flights over Port Angeles and environs.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — Apologies directed at the citizens of Port Angeles were plentiful Monday in the spacious office of Army Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr., the garrison commander of this military installation south of Tacoma.

The apologies were accepted by Mayor Cherie Kidd as expressions of regret for the unannounced, low-flying Army helicopter training exercises that startled many Port Angeles residents late Thursday night and set off a frenzy of 9-1-1 calls.

“They are not planning any further exercises in the foreseeable future,” Kidd said after the midday meeting. “That's what I was insisting upon.”

At least one more note of contrition will come tonight when Hodges comes to Port Angeles to offer a public apology to the City Council when the panel meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St., Kidd said Monday.

The colonel — who will take questions from council members but not the public — was joined by Maj. Roger Waleski Jr. of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Monday's meeting , which took place at the headquarters of the former Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, which were merged in 2010.

Pilots from the 160th flew the tandem-rotor, heavy-lift CH-47 Chinooks and MH-60 Black Hawks copters, some of which had landing lights shining as though they were aimed at homes below.

Kidd was accompanied on the visit by Public Works and Utilities Director Glenn Cutler, who quickly researched the issue and put the city in contact with Hodges last Friday.

They met with Hodges and Waleski from 11:45 a.m. to
12:45 p.m. at a round table in Hodges' office.

“I told him we are a patriotic town who supports our military, and that this was upsetting,” Kidd said. “They repeatedly apologized, and I thanked them for their apology.

“I asked for assurances that in the future, if there are any military exercises, [that we] will we be notified,” Kidd said.

“They said they will notify us well in advance [via] our police and sheriff.”

Chinook and Black Hawk war helicopters were reported flying over Port Angeles and unincorporated areas to the east toward Sequim between about 10:30 p.m. and midnight Thursday, some as low as about 750 feet.

The training mission involved flying to and from Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles on Ediz Hook in Port Angeles Harbor.

That involved flying over the city, Hodges said Friday.

The Black Hawks were the main helicopters that flew over the city, Kidd said.

“They were staying out of the flight pattern of the Chinooks, and I don't think they understood how loud and disruptive it was,” she said.

“I will promise you they understand that now.”

“Part of [our] good neighbor flying program [is] that we notify folks this is going to happen, and that was the piece that we didn't get,” Hodges told the Peninsula Daily News earlier.

“In this particular case, that was an oversight, that we didn't actually communicate with the city in the way we should have.”

The training exercise lasted until 2 a.m. Friday, Hodges said.

Hodges did not return PDN calls for comment Monday afternoon.

But the colonel told base spokesman John Norgren that “it was a good meeting,” Norgren said.

“It was very positive, a good chance to sit down and talk over what happened face to face.”

Norgren said the base's media affairs office had not been notified that the exercise was taking place.

“Our role in this is to make sure the word gets out, and that's what we were unable to do in this case,” he said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 15. 2013 6:01PM
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