Canopies Over Creswell

This is a copy of an article I wrote. It was published in the May 2014 edition of Parachutist Magazine.

IMG_4170Eugene Skydivers regained the right to land at the Creswell Airport after city administrators decided to settle the long-running dispute. The agreement between Drop Zone Operator Urban Moore and the City of Creswell marked the end of a bruising eight-year legal battle. Local skydivers celebrated the victory on February 22 by skydiving into the Creswell Hobby Field. This singular event marked the first time since 2006 that skydivers have been allowed to land on city property adjacent to the airport. “It’s great to see canopies over Creswell,” reflected long time packer April Dummert.

The story of Eugene Skydivers reads like classic literature, reminiscent of the vicissitudes of Ben Hur or Jean Valjean of Les Misérables. From humble beginnings, Urban Moore started Eugene Skydivers in February 1992; the fledgling business was born with a rented airplane, borrowed gear, and lots of uncertainty. A mere handful of years later, the drop zone ballooned to include three Cessna 182s, a Cessna Caravan on weekends and a steady stream of eager customers. His successes involved developing new skydivers, sponsoring boogies, hosting a state skydiving record and having a permanent stable of packers, videographers, and rigging services to meet a burgeoning client base. Things were going very well despite minor tension with the city and airport officials.

In 2006, everything changed when city administrators flexed their political muscle and successfully blocked skydivers from landing on airport property. This assault launched against Eugene Skydivers by the City of Creswell decimated Moore’s business and hit the local skydiving community pretty hard. To keep his business afloat, Moore procured permission to land in a farmer’s field eight miles away. The increased costs and turnaround time between loads adversely affected the DZ’s ability to operate. The services he could provide shrank as his staff dwindled to a skeleton crew and his client base evaporated. However, rather than folding up or relocating, Moore decided to fight back. This was a tough challenge, as he had to battle a rival that had unlimited resources at its fingertips while his income was precipitously dropping. Looking back, Moore says, “The first few years were pretty bleak; it feels like you’re buried under an avalanche when you are fighting a city. You just feel so alone.”

In order to take the fight directly to the city, Moore utilized the one resource at his disposal: the United States Parachute Association. The USPA and its Airport Access Defense Fund (AAD) were huge supporters. Ed Scott, who at the time was USPA’s director of government relations (and now Executive Director), and current Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger proved to be extremely valuable. Equally important was the backing from USPA’s AAD fund. Its financial support alleviated a huge burden Moore was facing by helping to finance a challenge to regain airport access.

Eugene Skydivers hit back against the City of Creswell and the Creswell Airport by filing a Part 13 Informal Complaint with the FAA. Although its decision sided with Eugene Skydivers, it did not resolve the issue. The next step Moore would have to take is to force the city to comply with FAA regulations. He did this by filing a Part 16 Formal Complaint, which is a process more akin to traditional court litigation, and wait for the FAA to render its decision.

With the Part 16 filed, Moore set in motion a key element of his defense. While the FAA was adjudicating the Part 16, Moore threw a counter-punch by filing a separate lawsuit in district court seeking personal damages. The combination of the lawsuit and a pending Part 16 proved to be an effective tool. The City of Creswell capitulated on its stance, and approached Eugene Skydivers about an agreement that would allow skydiving to return to the airport. “The Part 16 was the catalyst that brought the city to the bargaining table; otherwise an agreement would not have happened,” stated Moore.

With the agreement in place skydiving has returned to the airport. It’s a sure bet that canopies will again pepper the skies over Creswell as they did a decade ago. Moore expects it will take three years to regain the level of success he had but also said, “this time I have the planes and equipment, so it will not be as hard.”

If he had to do it all again, Moore said that he’d have worked to resolve the issue a little differently. “I’d reach out to the USPA as soon as possible, not be silenced and not isolate myself by failing to network with other DZOs who went through similar battles,” Moore said. He firmly believes the resources of the USPA helped guide him through the FAA process and got him on track to regain airport access. “The USPA and the AAD [Fund] were critical to successfully regaining our landing rights,” declares Moore recently as he prepares a student for a jump.

It is fitting the story ends with Moore getting back to work. Like the characters of Ben Hur and Jean Valjean, Eugene Skydivers has emerged from an abyss to reclaim its position with help from key allies.”The FAA’s process is a slow, cumbersome and bureaucratic one,” said Ottinger. “Many DZOs would not have had the stamina or patience to see it through.”

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