A nasty way to spend an evening 02-04-11

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Column by Jim Clark

Tuesday night’s discussion of the aerobatic box at the Dunnellon Airport was a drawn out, sometimes nasty way to spend an evening, and the problem is that all of it may be immaterial.

The complaints continued about the box, which is a waiver giving a pilot permission to fly his aerobatic plane over the area within a one mile radius of the airport.

Two neighbors have been complaining loud and long, only this time Mark Stewart, the pilot involved, came and spoke publicly.

He wasn’t very well received. His “tone” and “attitude” were criticized by a couple of the commissioners, but he apparently was well within his rights to say that he would resume flying “in about three weeks” when a new waiver came through, and that he would not continue with a previous agreement not to use a certain runway and not to fly on  Sunday.

Maybe the best comment came from Commission Chairman Stan McClain, who said he resented the government’s “carrot and stick” approach.

There is a feeling that the feds would ask for repayment of all grants for the past 20 years if the county were to take action and refuse to allow aerobatics at the airport. In addition, Stewart upped the ante somewhat by saying that he would take legal action if the county so much as wrote a letter objecting to the box.

The grant repayment issue is just another case of the federal government trying to control everything local. “Either do it our way or you’re not getting any money,” is what they seem to be saying, forgetting, as most federal bureaucrats do, that the money they’re talking about is ours in the first place.

One of the more patient people at the meeting had to be airport manager John Helms, who had to sit there and listen to criticism by people who said they didn’t believe him when he spoke about the funding and about the government’s role in the aerobatic box. He is caught in the middle and it’s almost a no-win situation for him. He seems to be just trying to do his job, and people need to realize this.

Last spring we sat in uncomfortable chairs at the airport listening to these complaints at a meeting run by then chair Barbara Fitos. Tuesday night’s meeting was in a much more comfortable setting, but the script was the same.

And that’s too bad. Nothing has changed in the time, nearly a year, since that meeting. And to be honest, it’s not likely that anything is going to change in the near future.


Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at 352-854-3986 or at editor@smcitizen.com.