Pilot, former airport manager say
Friday, December 13, 2013
By LINDA REDEFFER ~ Banner Press
MARBLE HILL, Mo. — Marble Hill’s Ira Biffle Airport is so dangerous that former airport manager Tim Winters told the Marble Hill Board of Aldermen they could be liable for willful negligence if it remains in its current condition.
Winters resigned earlier in the year as unpaid airport manager, but approached the board Monday night as a private pilot and concerned resident. Winters said he moved his airplane to Fredericktown, Mo., because of his concern about the airport’s safety and the seeming nonchalance with which city officials treated his concern.
He told the aldermen that until Monday afternoon he thought the city had a choice of fixing or closing it, but learned just hours before the meeting that the city has a contracted obligation to keep the airport maintained until 2024.
In 1974, before Marble Hill and Lutesville merged, the city contracted with the Missouri Department of Transportation to open the airport with the intention of expanding industry. Kenneth Shrum, an attorney for both communities at that time and present at Monday’s meeting, said he and a business partner sold the land to the city through a $25,000 bond issue “for about a third of what it was worth.” The city operates the airfield in conjunction with MoDOT on a 50-year contract that will expire in 2024.
The airport is closed because of a recent snowstorm. Once the snow melts, Winters said it will remain closed until the defects are corrected. Among the defects are mole and groundhog mounds scattered about the runway, interference from an adjacent farming operation and trespassing.
The mole and groundhog mounds are hazardous to the airfield. “Also consider that the frozen molehills would likely take a nose wheel off an airplane if hit squarely, and since it is a known unaddressed issue, it could be viewed as willful negligence and potentially not be covered by insurance,” Winters said, adding the condition was brought to the city’s attention more than a month ago and has not been addressed.
Further, Winters said the farming operation that harvested beans in November encroached on the airfield and parked vehicles and equipment in a restricted area. During the harvest, an aircraft attempted to land there but was blocked by the unauthorized vehicles.
Also during the harvest, some taxiway/ramp area delineators were moved or removed. Winters said he has spoken with MoDOT, which indicated “this unauthorized removal/relocation of airport safety delineation markers is actionable under FAA 7460 and punishable by a fine of $1,000 per day until the markers have been returned to their original locations.”
Winters said the state wanted to begin action, but he asked MoDOT to allow him to give the city time to correct the situation.
People who visit Crooked Creek to collect reeds for duck blinds have told Winters the farmer had given permission to them to trespass on posted city property, and have been seen driving on the taxiway and runway.
“This is another accident waiting to happen,” Winters said.
“I can understand how the lack of airport use can lull the city into a sense of complacency toward airport safety and regulations,” Winters said. “Regardless of if one airplane lands there per week or 50 do, the same level of maintenance and control must be sustained to ensure a safe environment for aircraft and operations. One way or the other the city needs to get off the fence. Aviation safety is far too important to be approached with the nonchalant attitude that the city and locals have displayed in recent years.”
Mayor Nick Hendricks said he has tried to reach someone at the farm that leases the land from the city but without success. He said the farm’s owner may be unaware of possible infractions by his employees. He also said what the city earns from leasing the farmland more than pays for the airport.
Hendricks said he would not like to lose the airport, and he would meet with city attorney Alan Beussink and with MoDOT to try to reach a solution.
© Copyright 2013, seMissourian.com
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