City has yet to be served, but denies claims of a similar Federal Aviation Administration complaint
A twin engine plane operated by Mile-Hi Skydiving takes off from Vance Brand Municipal Airport in 2015. (Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer)
Mile-Hi Skydiving on Monday brought a lawsuit against Longmont alleging the city’s updated land use policies and fee structure at Vance Brand Municipal Airport are discriminatory.
The skydiving business — which has operated out of Vance Brand for 23 years, according to its attorney Anthony Leffert — is seeking an injunction stopping the city from enforcing its new parachute landing zone and land use fee regulations.
Mile-Hi this month also filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration over the airport regulations, a document shared by Leffert shows, and has asked the court to stay the city from applying the new policies until the federal agency takes action on the complaint.
The city is aware of the FAA complaint and denies its claims that the new airport land use policies and fee structure are out of line with the terms of grants the city receives from the federal agency.
“The city disagrees with the characterizations by Mile-Hi regarding the city’s actions and intent in this matter,” Longmont spokesman Rigo Leal said. “Mile Hi’s assertions are at odds with the truth.”
Longmont has not yet been served the civil complaint, Leal said.
Longmont in December 2017 updated its fee structure for users of Vance Brand property, allowing them to be charged at either the least expensive daily rate for one-time use, or at more expensive weekly, monthly and yearly rates for more frequent users. City council approved the least-expensive fee structure of three proposed by city staff after Mile-Hi threatened litigation “if the city raised the rates above a level that Mile-Hi considered acceptable,” Leal said.
But Mile-Hi was accused last year by City Councilwoman Marcia Martin of exploiting a loophole in the fee structure by characterizing itself as a daily user, despite being the airport’s most frequent user of airport land as a parachute landing zone, and paying the city only for the days it schedules jumps.
If Mile-Hi would have used the amount of airport space it had in years past — about 975,000 square feet — it would have paid more than $100,000 had it been charged as a yearly user.
Mile-Hi’s complaint to the FAA also alleges the city reduced the size of the area designated as a landing zone to 338,000 square feet, and Leffert claims the city also has wrongly threatened to charge Mile-Hi further permit fees for landings that occur outside the designated zone.
The city in October installed video cameras to monitor the area designated as a parachute landing zone so officials know whether Mile-Hi is renting an appropriate amount of space for parachutists to confine themselves to while landing. That was just days before 23-year-old Logan Polfuss died in an accident after jumping from a Mile-Hi flight. Polfuss wasn’t reported missing by the business, with law enforcement becoming aware of his death only after his girlfriend reported him missing more than eight hours after his jump.
“Mile-Hi designed the layout for a new landing zone in the public use area,” Leal said. “The city accepted this proposal on a trial basis for nearly a year. When Mile-Hi was unable to consistently stay within the boundaries of their designated landing zone, the airport manager designated a modified, enlarged landing zone without changing the per square foot rate, effective Nov. 1.”
That rate is less than 11 cents per square foot, just under $100 per day, charged only on days Mile-Hi uses the landing zone, Leal said.
The business’ complaint also alleges the city’s use of the video cameras is discriminatory.
“Despite skydiving landings being safely conducted for more than 20 years, on all portions of the historic parachute landing zone, once the city targeted Mile-Hi, it made the unprecedented decision to set up a video monitoring system to record every skydiver landing so that it could harass Mile-Hi when it did not report within 24 hours any ‘unauthorized’ landing,” Mile-Hi’s motion for an injunction states. “Landings by any other aeronautical user are not so recorded. Mile-Hi is targeted. No other airport in the U.S. uses a video monitoring system dedicated to recording skydiver landings.”
Longmont earlier this year contracted an airport safety consultant to conduct a review of land use and the configuration at Vance Brand. That review is expected to be complete next month.
The suit has been assigned to Boulder District Court Judge Thomas Francis Mulvahill and is set for a review on May 13, online court records show.
The city in October applied for $22.8 million in FAA grants to expedite the start dates for construction projects to extend the Vance Brand runway and bring more development to the airport’s south side. Whether those applications could be impacted by either Mile-Hi complaint is unknown.
“The city is confident in its compliance with all FAA grant assurances and stands by all actions taken to ensure fairness and safety at Vance Brand Airport,” Leal said.
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