By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Skydiving at the Winsted Muncipal Airport will be operating under new ownership this season.
At a special meeting Wednesday, the Winsted City Council approved a two-year agreement with Skydive the Twin Cities West, owned by two couples John and Danette Bucsko, and Kerry and Cathy McCauley.
The four of them have owned Skydive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI (about 35 miles east of St. Paul) since 1998. Three years ago, they also became the owners of Skydive Twin Cities-Forest Lake.
Skydiving in Winsted was introduced in 2010, as Westside Skydivers. The operation was owned by Joe Johnson, who was indicted in a marijuana operation in 2015.
The skydiving operation was then taken over by dropzone manager Kristin Merritt, under the name Skydive the Lakes.
When the contract with Merritt expired at the end of 2016, the city contacted her to see if she was interested in discussing a new contract. Merritt informed the city that she was in negotiations to sell the business to Skydive Twin Cities.
City Administrator Dan Tienter then contacted the potential new owners and met with them Feb. 3. During the meeting, the owners requested four changes to the agreement that had been negotiated with Skydive the Lakes, as follows:
• 180-day notification of any possible airport improvement project that may affect skydiving operations;
• a two-year term for the contract;
• a more progressive violations structure; and
• a revision of the non-conforming activities section.
Tienter commented that the new violations structure is beneficial from a city staff perspective, because there is more documentation in case a contract would need to be suspended or terminated. He explained that previously, the city’s only option for recourse was a “severe financial penalty,” but now the city can issue a verbal warning for the first offense, a written warning for the second offense, a $1,000 fine for the third offense, and so on.
The city still has the authority to terminate the contract if there is an incident of noncompliance or failure to maintain safe airport operations.
Noise and safety
Council Member George Schulenburg asked the new owners about how they deal with noise, since that was an issue when Johnson owned the skydiving operation.S
“Noise abatement is something we always take seriously,” Kerry McCauley said, explaining that they try to fly over least populated areas.
John Bucsko added that pilots can also vary their flight patterns so the same homes are not affected each time.
In Baldwin, the only time the skydiving operation has gotten significant noise complaints is during a one-day event to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease, according to Bucsko. For that event, a man attempts to make as many jumps as he can in one day.
Council members also asked about safety. Kerry McCauley said there was one fatality at the Baldwin location in 45 years, and their safety record is “fantastic.”
The Baldwin location is a larger skydiving operation than in Winsted, and the owners indicated that they plan to keep Baldwin as their primary location. They plan to start offering skydiving in Winsted in May.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council approved two related items regarding a community solar energy system for Minnesota Solar in the industrial district.
The first was an amendment to city code allowing Minnesota Solar’s interim use permit to remain valid if the zoning should change in the next 30 years. The life of the solar garden is expected to be 25 years, with an optional five-year extension.
The second was to amend the interim use permit to reflect the change. A representative from Minnesota Solar noted that they hope to begin construction this year.