A plea for more helipad flights; Boston Scientific, neighbors at odds (Natick, MA)
By John C. Drake, Globe Staff

Source:  Boston Globe
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Edition: 1, Section: Reg, Page 1

Boston Scientific Corp. executives want to be able to lift off from a helipad on the shores of Lake Cochituate when meetings run late, but neighbors of its Natick headquarters say the flights disrupt the area's serenity.

The medical devices firm has asked the town's Planning Board to loosen restrictions on the use of the helipad.

Company officials have abided by the restrictions, in place since 2000, which include limiting the helipad's use to weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and no more than two round trips per day, said company attorney Thomas C. Grassia.

But Grassia said the limitations don't mesh with the firm's business needs.

"We wouldn't be asking for a little more flexibility if we haven't been butting up against the restrictions," Grassia said. "It's pretty easy to see how a meeting could go longer than anticipated. The lights are on in our building well past the normal 5 o'clock quitting time."

The company, whose campus sits on the west side of Lake Cochituate, wants the town to expand the hours of use to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., lift the limitation on daily flights, and allow a helicopter to remain at the helipad with its engine off, rather than leave the site after each flight as current restrictions state.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the request at 8 p.m. on Wednesday in Town Hall.

Boston Scientific uses its Sikorsky S-76 helicopter to ferry executives to and from Logan International Airport and other locations, Grassia said. The restrictions limit the company to 15 flights per month, a number that Grassia said the firm sometimes approaches, but not always. He said the number of flights would not likely increase dramatically if the restrictions were loosened.

"It's not a heliport; it's a helipad used pretty modestly by the company," said Grassia, a helicopter enthusiast and pilot himself. "My guess is people are not going to recognize any increase" if the restrictions are lifted.

But Dick Miller, a member of the Cochituate State Park Advisory Committee and a lakeside resident, said expanded use of the helipad would add to noise pollution on the lake and detract from plans for a rail trail in the area.

"A company like Boston Scientific should be working overtime to improve the lake, not put extra noise pollution in it," Miller said. "They certainly could put a helicopter at an airport where it belongs, where any other executive would go to use a helicopter. If they're that lazy or self-important that they can't do that, they should put a few buildings between it and the lake and bother their employees rather than a state park."

Grassia said the company considered moving the helipad to the interior of its campus, but decided it would be impractical.

"Moving it closer to Route 9 brings it closer to residential areas on the other side of Route 9, and moving it west has been compromised by the fact that the town is permitting a high-rise apartment building," Grassia said. "So, where it is really makes the most sense from both a safety perspective and a noise-intensity perspective. We don't have to overfly any residential zones to get there."

He said Boston Scientific uses a helicopter for executive travel because the company is, like other large firms, "concerned about the security and safety of their key personnel." The 30-mile drive to Logan Airport from Natick can take "anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours," he added.

Julian Munnich, chairman of the Planning Board, said the restrictions were put in place to keep helicopter noise restricted to times when other noises, such as highway traffic, already are at high levels. He said the other consideration was to limit helicopter noise during the times that neighbors should have a reasonable expectation to "enjoy their backyards without interference and noise to disturb them."

In allowing a special permit for the helipad in 2000, the Planning Board found that the noise generated by the Sikorsky helicopter is similar to that of a lawn mower, and would not be offensive to neighbors.

But Miller said that on calm days, the lake can carry sound from the helipad for a mile.

"I hear Route 9 traffic noise, because it is very close to my home, and when this helicopter drowns out the Route 9 traffic noise, that's very loud," Miller said.

In any case, Grassia said, the increase would be negligible.

"The coming and going of a helicopter takes about 30 seconds or so," he said. "If you double the day's usage from two trips to four, you're adding 120 seconds to a day. I think people need to put that into perspective. It sounds dramatic perhaps, but it really isn't."

Munnich said the burden is on Boston Scientific to show that the terms of the special permit allowing the helipad should be altered. He questioned Boston Scientific's argument that the helicopter noise would be hardly noticed considering all the other noise in the area.

"I don't know that it's a winning argument to say it's OK to have your child screaming in a restaurant because other children are screaming in the restaurant as well," Munnich said.

"It may be that no one should be crying in the restaurant."

John C. Drake can be reached at 508- 820-4229 or jdrake@ globe.com.