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Front Page » Top Stories » Helicopters On Watson Island Could Endanger Flamingos Parrot Jungle Says

Helicopters On Watson Island Could Endanger Flamingos Parrot Jungle Says

Written by on June 19, 2003

By Susan Stabley
Helicopters flying over Parrot Jungle Island’s new home on Watson Island from a neighboring heliport will threaten the park’s 65 flamingos, park officials say.

But a seaplane base on the opposite side of the tiny island that uses Government Cut landing strip has a lease that bans helicopters from flying over it, leaving helicopter pilots little alternative but to fly over the theme park.

Parrot Jungle General Manager Barbara Ibarra said Friday that noise from helicopters flying over Interstate 395 could cause the birds to panic and injure themselves.

Many of the park’s flamingos are 40-50 years old, said Curator Trent Swigert, and "have never been exposed to that type of noise." He pegged the value of the birds at $4,500 to $5,000 each.

The flamingos are to be moved to Watson Island this week, Mr. Swigert said. Parrot Jungle closed its Pinecrest site in November and is to open on Watson Island June 28.

Ms. Ibarra said a city official told Parrot Jungle when it bid for relocation to Watson Island in 1995 that helicopter traffic would be rerouted over Government Cut.

Laura Billberry, the City of Miami’s acting assistant director for economic development, said the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority’s lease with Chalk’s Ocean Airways, which uses Government Cut, prohibits helicopters from interfering with Chalk’s seaplane operation.

The city is investigating with the Federal Aviation Authority how it might be able to control helicopter flights out of the public heliport on Watson Island, Ms. Billberry said.

Phil Shelnut, co-owner of Miami-based Action Helicopters, which uses the public helicopter facilities near Miami Children’s Museum on Watson Island, said no one has talked to him about Parrot Jungle Island’s concerns. His company is the only one based at the facilities, a grassy area marked off by fencing, though others use the landing area.

The City of Miami’s planned $11.7 million Watson Island Aviation & Visitors Center will include helicopter facilities that will be further away from the bird sanctuary but closer to the area where Chalk’s seaplanes land. Mr. Shelnut said it would be difficult for helicopters to avoid the seaplane facility’s airspace from the new complex.

"How can we do that when the pads are right on the waterway?" said Mr. Shelnut, who made an unsuccessful bid to run helicopter operations at the new center.

The city last week chose Linden Airport Services Corp. of New Jersey to run the center’s helipads.