Helipad compromise still pending for GWU Hospital

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George Washington University Hospital is proposing to install a helipad at the building's southwest corner, near the corner of 24th and I streets NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

A proposed compromise regarding a George Washington University Hospital helipad is once again facing delays, with Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End) pausing to seek additional assurance that its planned agreement with the hospital is legally enforceable.

Although current D.C. law bans new helipads in residential areas, the hospital is seeking a way to let helicopters serve the 900 23rd St. NW facility. Amid community division about the potential noise impacts and safety hazards, the hospital and ANC 2A hammered out a compromise that would restrict the new helipad’s usage.

However, ANC 2A chair Patrick Kennedy said last week that he’s hoping that the Foggy Bottom Association or another third party will also be a signatory given that advisory neighborhood commissions have limited powers to legally enforce their agreements. Proponents said they want the agreement in place as soon as possible in case the D.C. Council revises the law in such a way that it doesn’t grant explicit protections to the Foggy Bottom community.

The proposed agreement includes various restrictions on the helipad’s usage. Except in cases of mass casualties, when the D.C. mayor declares a state of emergency or when it’s used by various local police departments, the helipad could be used no more than three times per week and then only for “life or death” scenarios. There would a limit of 175 flights per year, except for mass casualty events. ANC 2A would also have the right to ask the D.C. Department of Health to limit flights between 11 p.m. and 5:59 a.m.

The proposal drew both praise and criticism from ANC attendees. One neighbor pointed out the restrictive helipad law is there for good reason, as a helicopter accident would be “catastrophic” and the hospital is near the White House. Another said local buildings, many of which are historic, are not built to withstand helicopter vibrations.

The Foggy Bottom Association board plans to vote Oct. 2 whether to participate in the agreement.