San Juan County begins process of purchasing new helicopter for Sheriff's Office

Cost of new aircraft was covered by $3.25 million in capital outlay funding

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Sheriff's Office is shopping for a new helicopter.

San Juan County's central purchasing office on Sept. 21 released a document inviting vendors to submit bids to supply the aircraft. The county received $3.25 million in capital outlay funding from the state Legislature in March for the purchase of a new helicopter, which Sheriff Shane Ferrari has said is essential to the continued operation of his agency's aviation program.

Ferrari has said the Sheriff's Office has two existing helicopters, but both of them date to the early 1970s and have undergone multiple repairs. That raises concerns about the safety of both aircraft, he said.

According to The Daily Times archives, county officials have described the two aging helicopters as underpowered and said both aircraft have to operate with a reduced fuel load to get off the ground. Ferrari said his agency acquired the helicopters from the military in 2001 when they were approximately 30 years old.

Since then, Ferrari has said, the two helicopters have logged nearly 2,000 flights cumulatively and been used for hundreds of search-and-rescue missions, missing persons cases and violent crimes.

San Juan County is seeking to purchase a new public safety helicopter for the Sheriff's Office and has specified that the aircraft must have a color scheme of black, white and verde pino.

The document indicates the county is looking to purchase a Bell 505 public safety helicopter or equivalent that seats a pilot, copilot and two rear passengers. Included in the deal must be a provision for the vendor to supply training on the operation and maintenance of the new aircraft to a pilot and a mechanic.

Any bids received by the county will be opened by Oct. 11, according to the document. County spokesman Devin Neeley said the county staff and officials from the Sheriff's Office then would examine those bids to make sure they meet the specifications outlined by the county.

That process typically takes a couple of weeks, he said, at which point the county purchasing staff and Sheriff's Office personnel would make a recommendation to the County Commission about which bid to accept. A motion to accept that bid would be placed on the next County Commission agenda. That means commissioners could vote on whether to award a contract for the purchase by late October or early November, Neeley said.

The invitation to bid indicates the county is not obligated to accept the lowest bid submitted by a vendor if such a bid does not meet the county's specifications and requirements.

Among the specifications for the aircraft is a requirement that the helicopter be painted in a color scheme of black, white and verde pino, a deep shade of green.

The introductory portion of the county's solicitation for bids states that the Sheriff's Office plans to decommission one of its existing helicopters when the new aircraft is delivered.

Ferrari has described his agency's helicopters as the only public safety air assets within 160 miles and noted that the aircraft are used to provide services to the entire Four Corners region.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: