By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Winsted City Council was cautious in moving forward with plans at its Tuesday meeting to give a skydiving operation permission to work out of the Winsted Municipal Airport.
Joe Johnson, owner of West Side Skydivers, told the council he would like to have his business up and running by April 2010.
The council agreed to have City Administrator Brent Mareck, City Attorney Fran Eggert, Bolton & Menk engineer Marcus Watson, and Johnson work together on a draft of an agreement for the operation of the skydiving business.
Included in the draft would be standards required by the City of Winsted for the skydiving business.
The draft would be reviewed by the airport commission and sent on to the council for final approval.
Winsted Airport was recommended to Johnson by the FAA as an acceptable facility for skydiving operations.
Johnson made a presentation to the airport commission July 14 and another presentation at an open house at the airport for hangar owners July 31.
His plans are to run his business out of an existing hangar at the airport.
It was the airport commission’s unanimous recommendation to the council, following the July presentations, to not enter into an agreement with the skydiving business.
The commission cited its concerns over the size of the drop zone and the proximity of the drop zone to the runway.
The proposed drop zone is the area south of the airport hangars and north of McLeod County Road 5.
The commission was also concerned with the increase in traffic on the runway once the operation begins and the stigma associated with sky divers at an airport from the general aviation community.
Watson was present to talk about the technical aspects of skydiving and how it would affect airport operations.
According to Watson, skydiving takes place at approximately 10,000 feet in the air when the diver jumps from a plane. The parachute is deployed at approximately 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the airport.
Skydiving activities are considered aeronautical in nature, and cannot be discriminated against by the municipal airport, according Watson.
It is part of the FAA grant assurances for the Winsted airport which is to openly allow commercial activity at the airport because it is a public use airport.
The city is not required to permit parachute jumping if, in its judgement, it creates a safety hazard or interferes with future plans for the airport.
“We want to make sure that the decision of the council doesn’t negatively affect future funding of the airport,” Mareck said.
Scott Lindquist and Daniel Mahon both have homes next to the airport and took turns addressing the council.
Lindquist wanted to know why Johnson didn’t set up his operation in Hutchinson because they had an operation there that had closed.
Johnson replied that he wanted to be closer to the cities.
Mahon was concerned about the noise from the aircraft, especially the larger turbine plane.
“Typically, when we take off, it is one big loop. We take a route that is less populated,” Johnson said “We will be concerned about the noise and take the best action that we can to make the minimum noise possible.”
The council had many questions to ask Johnson, as well.
Safety concerns by Council Member Tom Wiemiller included how the facility would impact Winsted’s emergency services?
Johnson currently works for a skydiving business out of Wisconsin and said they have needed service two or three times a year for things like a sprained or broken ankle.
Council Member Bonnie Quast wanted to know what time of day his business would be open and how many take-offs and landings would be made in a day?
West Side Sky Divers would be open for business from 11 a.m. to sunset, during the week and on weekends from 8 a.m. to sunset.
“On a busy day, maybe 30 events and a slow day, maybe five to 10,” Johnson said. “Someday there will not be any.”
Johnson would have two planes a small plane for a light workload, carrying four or five jumpers. His larger aircraft would carry up to 17 jumpers at one time.
Council Member Tom Ollig suggested that the city agree to try the skydiving operation for possibly a year.
“I have never seen an operation like this and it is a little difficult to make a decision. But, if we could set it up for a period of time and get input from neighbors, because in some respects, we are kind of shooting blind here,” Ollig said.
Johnson did not like the idea of a temporary agreement as he had plans to buy a home close to the airport, start a web site using the Winsted Airport location, and was planning to move his window washing business to Winsted, as well.
It would be difficult to make that kind of effort for only a year, Johnson said.
The city staff had called municipal airports in Waseca, Hutchinson, and Luverne to ask for comments on their skydiving operations.
All of the airports said they welcome skydivers and Hutchinson, which had an operation that lasted almost 20 years, said they would welcome skydivers back to the airport.
The council agreed to a draft agreement between Johnson and the city that would include a possible maintenance fee and that the operation would have to close down the week of Winstock, from Wednesday to Sunday.
Johnson told Ollig that he was hoping to draw people from the 14,000 attending Winstock.
Ollig said, “I am sure you were.”