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ODOT increases pressure on Creswell skydive firms.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

CRESWELL - The Oregon Department of Transportation will post "no trespassing" signs today around state property long used as a parachute landing zone by two Creswell skydive companies.

The action comes 10 days after the agency told the city to direct its airport tenants to stop using the state land just east of the airfield as a skydive drop zone.

Eugene Skydivers and Wright Brothers Skydivers have long used the vacant parcel as a drop zone under a land use permit issued to the city. But ODOT canceled the permit this summer after Creswell failed to sign a revised contract for use of the site.

The cancellation occurred against a backdrop of concerns about the landing zone's safety by some Federal Aviation Administration officials and after a bitter, year-long dispute between the city and the skydive companies over a city-proposed new "drop-zone user agreement." Among other things, it would require the skydive operations to carry liability insurance to cover any accidents that may occur on the land.

Liability concerns are also a factor for ODOT, spokesman Joe Harwood said Monday.

"A big concern for us is that the skydiver operators who use this property do not have insurance," he said. "It would be improper for the state of Oregon to take on that kind of a liability."

He said ODOT is posting the warning signs because Creswell-based skydivers have continued to use the 4-acre parcel 10 days after the state sent a registered letter demanding that the city stop its airport tenants from using the property.

"We asked them to get their tenants under control, but people are still landing there, so we thought we needed to ratchet things up a notch," Harwood said.

If anyone is observed trespassing on the site after the signs are posted, the agency will "file a complaint and pursue appropriate legal action with either the state police or the Lane County Sheriff's Office," he said.

Urban Moore, owner of Eugene Skydivers, told the City Council Monday night that this is his operation's busiest time of year and that he has skydivers booked for today. And he reiterated his position that the airport is legally obligated to accommodate skydiving or face the loss of its federal grant money. Moore has repeatedly pointed to a 2006 ruling by a top FAA official as a legal precedent. That case reversed a Tennessee airport's decision to eliminate its drop zone.

"I expect the city to let me know tomorrow where our alternative landing zone will be," he said.

Because the drop zone was not on the City Council's agenda as an action item, however, the council did not discuss that request.

Both Moore and Dave Wright of Wright Brothers say they have backup drop zones, though neither would say where.

The state said last month that it is exploring the possibility of declaring the 4-acre parcel and an additional 28 acres it leases to a Creswell farmer as surplus property. Under state law, other state agencies would have first shot at buying the land at fair market price, followed by other governmental organizations. If none of them wants it, the property would be sold to the highest private bidder.

Both Moore and Wright have said they would be interested in purchasing the landing zone site. The city's master plan calls for the land to remain an undeveloped buffer zone for the airport, Airport Manager Shelley Humble said last week.
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Title Annotation:Government; `No trespassing' signs will be posted on state property
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 8, 2006
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