Monday, November 07, 2016

Trees trimmed to settle pilot's lawsuit over Spruce Creek Fly-In's runway

Pilot and aircraft owner Melvin Stanley with his Citation CJ2+ in his hangar earlier this year at the Spruce Creek Fly-In.

The runway at the Spruce Creek Fly-In has the right stuff again now that trees which had interfered with safety zones around the airfield have been either removed or trimmed.

Circuit Judge Michael S. Orfinger approved an agreement last month which stated that the Spruce Creek Property Owners Association was required by the community's own articles of incorporation to trim and cut any trees that had grown too tall for the safety zones around the runways.

The judgement also requires the association to promptly take all reasonable action to restore night use of the runway. The too-tall trees had prompted the FAA to strip the airport of its night GPS approach.

The judgment was the culmination of a lawsuit filed by Melvin Stanley, a pilot and resident of the plane-centric community who could no longer fly into the airport at night.

Stanley said on Friday that he and other pilots were pleased by the ruling and looking forward to the FAA's approving the night approach. He added, though, the dispute by some residents who resisted cutting the trees created unnecessary turbulence.

"It was a disgusting waste of the community's money," Stanley said.

Stanley said his legal costs were in the six figures but the association won't have to pay his attorneys fees, unless it interferes with the restoration of the night approach. That will land everyone back in court, he said.

The FAA has already checked and approved the tree clearing but the agency said it will take some time to restore authority for the night approach, Stanley said.

The tall trees were a danger to pilots and planes, Stanley said. The trees cutting into the safe zone also exposed the community to greater legal liability should a plane flying in the safe zone crash into one, Stanley said.

Jim Calhoun, an association board member and former airline pilot, who had voted against cutting the trees, did not want to talk about the case except to say the trees had been trimmed or cut and the organization has done what it can.

“Every provision has been complied with and it will be up to the FAA as to whether that happens,” Calhoun said.

Shane McLaughlin, a former board member who had been on the losing side of three votes to cut down the trees, said the judge made a fair and reasonable decision.

“It preserves the founders’ concept that we are a fly-in community and the centerpiece of our community is the airport,” McLaughlin said.

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