Both the town and the Citizens for a Safe Chatham Airport have spent thousands of dollars in a court battle over allowing skydiving at the town’s airfield. Last week, a Barnstable County judge allowed the town’s motion for summary judgment in the suit brought by the citizens’ group, essentially dismissing their claim that skydiving constituted a nuisance under the state Tort Claims Act. Because the town was compelled to allow skydiving by the Federal Aviation Administration, the federal statute takes precedence over the state law, Justice Beverly Cannone ruled.
The group of property owners who believe that skydiving disturbs their peace and poses a safety hazard has 30 days to appeal the decision. We urge them not to do so. Prolonging the legal action will only cost both parties more money—and since they’re taxpayers too, members of the citizens group are essentially paying for both sides—with no guarantee of a different outcome. A far more productive avenue would be for both the town and members of the group to work together and take the case directly to the FAA.
In its final safety risk assessment of skydiving at the airport, the agency concluded it is possible to reduce the risk of skydiving from “medium” to “low” through several mitigation steps, most involving developing written operating procedures for skydiving and establishing communications protocols. It’s clear from this assessment and other communications, and from the continuing requirement that the town adhere to grant assurances and allow skydiving, that the FAA sees no major problems with the activity at Chatham Airport. Town officials initially had similar safety concerns as the citizens’ group, which was the original impetus for not renewing Skydive Cape Cod’s contract. The town’s attempt to restrict skydiving through a request for proposals in 2015 were also curtailed by the FAA.
By joining together, the town and the citizens’ group could work to convince the FAA to at least allow some restrictions on skydiving to satisfy both safety and noise concerns; perhaps more limited operating hours and flight path requirements. The town is facing another suit from Skydive Cape Cod, which has been on hold pending the outcome of the Citizens for a Safe Chatham Airport action. That’s likely to change if last week’s decision isn’t appealed. And that decision makes it clear that, barring a reversal, skydiving will be allowed to return to Chatham Airport. It behooves both the citizens’ group and town officials to work toward a compromise that avoids the need for further legal action.
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