Marion council grounds return of Free Flight enthusiasts

Prompted by a letter of opposition from the airport authority, a motion to close the airport for two days in order to host a model aircraft competition for a second year, failed for lack of a second at Monday?s Marion City Council meeting.

Dick McLinden, a member of the airport board, read a letter to the council written by Ty Zeiner, airport manager, stating Heart of America Free Flight Association has no business at their facility.

?The Heart of America group is not an aviation activity and has no business on the airport,? Zeiner stated.

Considering the lack of respect and damage done by this group, the board did not want them back at the municipal airport, the letter stated.

In addition, the letter stated the airport would have to be closed for a weekend during prime season.

Local pilots keep the airport open by paying hangar rent, buying fuel and paying for upkeep, he stated; to close it for an outside group would not be right.

The letter also stated the airport is subject to Federal Avia?tion Administration regulations, and the authority to make decisions regarding airport usage belongs with the airport manager of record and not the city governing body.

McLinden also questioned the council about how the airport authority was ?faithfully promised that the damage would be repaired,? asking for receipts showing the work was done.

Doug Kjellin, economic development director for the city, said he spoke with Zeiner and asked him how he wanted the work done.

?To date, I have not received any bills,? Kjellin said.

Skip Sieger, also on the airport board, said last year he heard Heart of America members were riding motorcycles outside the property boundaries.

Councilor Stacey Collett asked McLinden if the association could use his pasture east of the football field. McLinden said his cattle would be in pasture at that time, and it wouldn?t be an option.

Other ideas included the ball fields, industrial park and even Kjellin?s property outside the city limits.

The ballfields would not be a good option because of wind conditions in June, the industrial park because of land ownership on the eastern half and Kjellin?s land because of the 60 foot Cottonwood trees blocking the model aircrafts in flight.

Kjellin said he has tried to mitigate damages, and the city has tried to make this event good for both the airport authority and the Free Flight Association.

Councilor Gene Winkler questioned whether the airport fell under FAA enforcement.

McLinden said the airport has six certified runways and does fall under FAA regulations.

Kjellin recommended at the March 8 meeting that the council consider shutting down the airport for the weekend of June 19-20. He asked the council to consider why the event is good for the community?s economy and weigh that against concerns expressed by the small number of planes and pilots impacted.

?Last year, more than 30 people came to Marion and this year we are expecting almost 50,? Kjellin said. ?A very conservative estimate of this event meant more than $3,000 to our local community last year, and we could see $5,000 to $6,000 this summer.?

Following the failed motion, Kjellin told council members he would be discussing the decision with association members and decide what steps to take next.

One council member suggested having the event in the city. It would take a quarter section of clear ground and one-half mile, east and west to retrieve the aircraft, Kjellin said.

Margo Yates, the city?s Chamber of Commerce and tourism director, said she had a comment about the airport decision since it fell under the umbrella of tourism.

?I encourage Doug (Kjellin) not to give up on this. I helped with the dinner last year (when the association was here) and I do understand the concerns, but this was the first time it was here.?

Yates said she thinks people need to have an open mind and think about new money used for lodging and food.

?I sure hope they don?t end up anywhere else in the county,? she said. ?I won?t be happy about that.?

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