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Skydivers land new spot to touch down.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

A county hearings officer has granted Eugene Skydivers' request to land its thrill-seeking customers in a field several miles north of its home base, the Creswell Airport.

Hearings Official Gary Darnielle on Monday approved company owner Urban Moore's request for a temporary use permit to drop skydivers on the northeast corner of farmer James Evonuk's 90-acre farm at 34435 Seavey Loop Road. The permit will be good during daylight hours, Tuesdays through Sundays, for five years.

The approval is good news for Eugene Skydivers, one of two rival companies that last year lost long-time permission to land skydivers at the northeastern edge of Creswell Airport's Hobby Field. City officials cited safety concerns after some other airport users complained of conflicts - including reported near-misses - between their planes and skydive pilots and customers.

"We're very happy the county has seen fit to grant this temporary permit," Moore said Tuesday. "We're appreciative of everyone who's worked hard to get us to this point. It's an opportunity for us to stay in business. We'll not abuse the privilege."

At the same time, he said, the process of seeking the county permit has been expensive, including the cost of a land use attorney Moore hired to help him file the necessary paperwork.

And the arrangement is more costly compared with their previous longtime operation of landing skydivers on and beside Hobby Field. Eugene Skydivers now has the cost of flying farther north to drop customers above Evonuk's property, then driving a van there to pick them up and return them to the airport, Moore said. That means a slower turnaround time between each batch of skydivers.

"Instead of the three loads an hour we could do while here at the airport, we only do about one," he said. "That's 60 percent reduction in business. I can't raise my rates enough to compensate for that."

A regional Federal Aviation Administration official backed Creswell's decision to halt the landings until the skydiver companies and airport officials could reach agreement on a new safety plan. The United States Parachute Association has appealed the case to the national FAA office, citing rules that prohibit airports that receive federal grants from discriminating among recognized aeronautical uses - including skydiving.

Meanwhile, both Moore and Dave Wright of Wright Brothers Skydiving, who have side-by-side hangars and skydive schools along the northwest end of the Creswell runway, found alternative drop zones off the airport property.

Darnielle granted Moore's request to use a portion of Evonuk's farm despite some testimony in opposition at a May hearing. Creswell-area resident Bob Meyers complained that the frequency and nature of skydive planes taking off and landing create noise problems in the rapidly growing community. And Tom LoCascio, caretaker at Mount Pisgah Park, across the Coast Fork Willamette River from Evonuk's land, warned that the sight and sound of skydive operations would compromise public expectations of a tranquil, natural park.

Darnielle concluded, however, that Lane County has no authority to regulate aviation-related noise, which falls under the Federal Aviation Administration's jurisdiction.

Eugene Skydivers has been using the Evonuk property as a drop zone since March 2, and the county received no complaints during the use permit application process, Darnielle wrote. And when he visited the Evonuk property to observe Eugene Skydiver operations May 7, he found no evidence that they would disturb users of Mount Pisgah.

"During the site view I was unable to hear the plane carrying the skydiver and was only barely able to see the plane even though I knew approximately where and when to look," he wrote in his ruling. "The visual of the skydiver was minimal until she was quite close to her landing."

He added that his own observations - along with the testimony of Evonuk's Seavey Loop neighbors and others supporting Moore's request - "demonstrated that the proposed use has minimal 'in air' impacts on the subject property and and surrounding properties."

"The high altitude of the transport plane over the subject property makes it virtually inaudible and largely invisible," Darnielle concluded.

He added that the "ground-based" aspects of the landing zone are "minimal ... compatible with and will not adversely affect the liveability or appropriate development" of surrounding properties. And he ruled that an expected 20 additional trips per day to retrieve Eugene Skydivers from the site would not have a significant effect on Seavey Loop Road.

Moore was not available for comment Tuesday.

Wright is still awaiting a ruling from Darnielle on a similar permit request to land skydivers on a hay and grazing field just east of Hobby Field. Unlike Moore, he faced official opposition from Creswell, which told Darnielle that Wright's proposal to land an estimated 32 skydivers per day on the land, owned by Frank Clack, would penetrate the airport's flight pattern. The city also cited safety issues with van pick-ups on narrow, rural Dale Kuni Road, he added.

Wright's application was supported, however, by nine other Creswell Airport pilots and business owners.
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Title Annotation:General News; A county official awards Eugene Skydivers a temporary permit to drop its customers on farmland near Mount Pisgah
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 18, 2007
Next Article:READY FOR 4-H.

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