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Council delays decision on drop zone for sky divers.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

CRESWELL - Concerns over safety of a sky-dive "drop zone" at the municipal airport here landed in the lap of the City Council Monday night.

The Creswell Airport Commission, its airport director and owners of the airport's two sky-diving operations - Eugene Skydivers and Wright Brothers Skydiving - have clashed for months over whether the drop zone is unsafe or incompatible with other aviation operations there.

The City Council Monday night noted receiving its second letter in a month from an attorney for Eugene Skydivers owner Urban Moore. The letters accuse airport Manager Shelley Humble of bias against sky divers and "alarmist" distortions of alleged incidents at the airport, and request a council inquiry of the matter.

Mayor Ron Pettiti told residents attending the meeting that the council would not make any decisions on the drop zone Monday until after it discusses the matter with its attorney.

The council also postponed action on a proposed agreement with the Oregon Department of Transportation, which owns a 4-acre parcel adjacent to the airport's runway, for continued use of the property for "airport-related purposes." In the past that has included the drop zone.

Terms of that agreement include carrying liability insurance for coverage of activities occurring on the property, and acknowledgement that the state is not liable for injury or death of any person during the airport's use of the property. Councilors said they wanted more information before approving the agreement.

In a 19-page letter dated Feb. 13, Moore's attorney Douglas Minger complained that Moore and Wright Brothers owner David Wright had been left out of negotiations over a proposed Landing Zone User Agreement for the airport. He also suggested that the city consider mediation to resolve the acrimonious conflict.

In a March 9 follow-up, Minger referenced a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration exonerating Eugene Skydivers pilot Michael Pohll after Humble forwarded to the agency a written complaint filed against Pohll by another airport user. In that letter, FAA Aviation Safety Inspector Gary Burns noted that "all witnesses agreed that you did nothing wrong and in fact avoided a looming hazard."

Minger also chided Humble for classifying as "runway incursions" sky divers walking across active runways, contrary to prior authorizations by the city and FAA of an earlier Eugene Skydivers safety plan that included such crossings.

In their same packet of meeting materials Monday night, however, council members received copies of letters to Humble from other FAA officials advising her that they cannot recommend as a safe drop zone the sky-dive landing area the city inherited when it took over airport operations in 2000.

In one of those letters, FAA District Supervisor William Watson wrote Humble March 7 that there are no federal rules against pedestrians crossing an active runway and runway safety area at an airport such as Creswell's with no traffic control tower. But he added that failing to assure "safe operation" of the airport could jeopardize the city's receipt of federal Airport Improvement Program funds. And the city could possibly incur "a significant liability exposure" if it does not take "reasonable precautions to prevent or remedy an identified safety hazard, such as allowing continued vehicle and/or pedestrian incursions into a runway safety area."
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Title Annotation:Government; Municipal airport and sky-dive operations clash over safety, compatibility
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 14, 2006
Previous Article:Speedway expansion plan, zone change approved.
Next Article:BRIEFLY.

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