UPDATE, Longmont, CO: Second Reading and Final Council Vote on Mile-Hi Skydiving Lease, set for March 15

The leasing process offers one of the best opportunities for local officials to create a fair balance between skydive operator profits (which tend to be huge) and noise/pollutant impacts on residents (which also tend to be huge, under the repetitive flight patterns). It is acceptable (i.e., not discriminatory against a skydive operator) for a local airport authority to negotiate lease terms that provide for this balance, protecting local residents. But, sadly, this rarely happens. Why not? Perhaps most likely because the elected officials routinely defer to airport boards and airport managers to do all the groundwork. But, in nearly all cases, board members and airport authorities tend to all be members of the aviation community, thus will tend to have a strong bias toward aviation, and an indifference toward impacts felt by the non-aviation community.

In Colorado, the Longmont City Council has been presented with an updated lease, put together by a few city officials including airport director David Slayter, with some ‘friendly oversight’ by aviation people serving on the Airport Advisory Board. The new lease seeks to replace the existing lease, for which Mile Hi has failed to ever pay. The new lease, if implemented, would allow Mile Hi to skip paying nearly $300,000 in dodged annual lease payments from 2007 through 2014. This is effectively a subsidy of Frank Casares’ enterprise, through which he is making a large profit via an activity that is creating stress and diminishing quality of life for hundreds of area homeowners.

Frankly, it appears that the city was negligent in its handling of both leases: not just the mess from 2007, but the intended ‘fix’ in 2016. In both cases, city officials are acting like they lack authority to sign a lease, because all the ‘authority’ rests at FAA Headquarters in Washington DC.

Well, imagine you were responsible for a property and you found a tenant and got them to sign a lease. Your boss would expect the lease payments to commence in a timely manner. The tenant uses the property and generates millions in revenues. Profits rise year after year, but no payments ever happen and, seven years later, neither you nor your boss have yet done anything to correct the problem. In fact, both you and your boss are just completely ignoring the lost revenue in excess of $40,000 per year.

Is this any way to run a business? Of course not. And it is even worse if you and your boss work FOR THE PEOPLE, because they expect you to do your job, which includes managing THE PEOPLE’s property and generating revenue to fund various programs.

Shortly after signing the lease in 2007, Frank Casares and Mile Hi Skydiving commenced to run the busiest and most profitable skydiving business in Colorado. To accommodate loading people into Mr. Casares’ airplanes, asphalt was laid abutting the federally funded taxiway. Then, in 2012, Mr. Casares constructed a custom 3,150 square foot structure, to support his growing business. The company’s profits grew for years, and none of these profits could have happened without ‘leasing’ these public lands … and yet neither the airport director nor the city manager nor the elected counselors ever spoke up to collect a fair payment. Instead, they allowed what, to most people in this nation, looks like a perpetuated gift to a crony.

This is the kind of failure that makes government look bad and corrupt, and makes Longmont look like a backwater mismanaged by idiots.

How City Council can Correct This Mess

City Council wants to serve the community, but FAA preempts their local authority. But, worse, FAA has thus far failed to properly advise city officials of precisely what they CAN INCLUDE in the revised lease, so that they can make an intelligent local effort to mitigate the noise problem. Indeed, FAA is just ignoring the whole situation, which only enables Mr. Casares to further his bad behavior, negatively impacting hundreds and even thousands of airport neighbors.

These are the key questions City Council needs to ask:

  1. Who paid for the asphalt and markings, abutting the taxiway, to accommodate loading lessee’s customers onto lessee’s aircraft? Who constructed it, using what permits, and in accordance with what airport plans (including the official Airport Master Plan)?
  2. Given that the 2007 lease requires the lessee to obtain permits for grading and construction (see Section 5.1), and given that the 2007 lease requires lessee to ‘build a parking area’ for the exclusive use of customers (see Section 5.1.8), what was constructed, when, and where are the permits?

If the answers to these questions reveal that Mile Hi breached the lease, than obviously the city needs to notify the lessee and proceed to terminate the lease without delay (see Section 17.1.2).

That’s the first of two parts to a rational solution. The other part is that City Council needs to ensure the revised lease protects the community. If Mr. Casares refuses to agree with the City’s reasonable set of procedures or limits, then the City needs to engage FAA. It is imperative that, because FAA holds all authority, FAA must produce a clear and unambiguous letter to the city, clearly defining what the city can and cannot do to manage the skydive noise issue. If FAA delays or refuses to produce this critically needed guidance document, the City has no obligation to ‘guess’ as to what they can negotiate with Mile Hi Skydiving.

Lastly, it seems appropriate that, prior to approving a new lease, Mile Hi should pay in full what they already owe. A new season of intensified skydiving is opening right now. Mile Hi’s receipts in 2016 will be in the multi-millions, as they have been for each of the past years. So, just to clean up the past, and to assure the people that the city is not just offering giveaways to cronies, City Council needs to insist that Mile Hi catch up by producing their past due lease payments.