By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Amidst apprehension and uncertainty, skydiving in Winsted will continue at least until the end of 2015 as per the contract city council members approved Tuesday evening.
“I am hesitantly confident that you will do the best that you can, and hopefully it’s a good year,” City Council Member Max Fasching told new owner Kristin Merritt.
The contract for the new skydiving operation, Skydive the Lakes, states that Winsted may terminate the agreement if there is any incident of non-compliance, or failure to maintain safe airport operations.
At the end of the year, the council will have an opportunity to consider approval of a new agreement.
“I’m willing to give it a chance,” Council Member Bonnie Quast said at Tuesday’s work session.
Mayor Steve Stotko called the work session “brutally honest,” as council members openly shared their reservations with Merritt.
“I don’t trust you; I want to see what you’re going to do,” Quast admitted to Merritt, noting Merritt’s past relationship with Westside Skydivers owner Joe Johnson.
Stotko and Council Member George Schulenberg said the vast majority of skydiving complaints they’ve received have been about noise.
Merritt said the pilots have diverted their flight path about three miles to the north in order to avoid disturbing homeowners who voiced complaints at a previous work session. Merritt said she sent a letter to the homeowners explaining the change, because she was unable to reach them via phone.
“I want people to tell me when something is going on,” she said, noting that although she won’t be able to please everyone, she will do what she can to address issues. She added that flying in a wider pattern uses more time and fuel thus reducing the profit of the company but she is willing to accommodate as best she can.
Recouping city costs
One of Fasching’s concerns was the amount of money the city has spent on skydiving in the past.
Attorney fees for the previous skydiving business (Westside Skydivers) were $3,700, according to City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt. The city typically budgets $900 for attorney fees, and has $900 in contingency funds. Subtracting those amounts, Westside Skydivers cost the city about $1,900 more than budgeted.
“The taxpayers are out thousands of dollars for something we did not ask for,” Fasching said.
Stotko said he doesn’t think it’s fair to have Merritt pay for Johnson’s mistakes.
“There’s got to be a middle ground here somewhere, and I’m looking for that ground,” Stotko said.
Merritt said she struggles with the fees as is, but acknowledged that she doesn’t think the city should have to absorb the cost, either.
“I understand where you guys are coming from,” she said.
Merritt agreed to pay $1,500 this year, in addition to the commercial operator fee of $8,847 and a lease fee of $1,552 for the drop zone area.
In addition to approving a contract for Skydive the Lakes, the council also terminated the agreement with Westside Skydivers, and formalized an agreement with Johnson stating that the city has no liability whatsoever due to Johnson’s past use of the Winsted airport. The agreement also states that if Johnson enters the airport, it will be considered trespass.
These actions were approved contingent upon review by the city attorney and city administrator.