Longmont Airport Examiner: Quiet Skies group takes Longmont airport skydive company to court, seeks closure

MHS Purple Otter ribbon

Mile-Hi Skydiving Purple Otter Ribbons

(Cross-posted from Examiner.com)

In October of 2013, Gunbarrel, Colorado resident Kimberly Gibbs, who after claiming for several years that Longmont airport and city officials were doing nothing about noise from the airport, filed suit in Boulder County District Court against Mile-Hi Skydiving, which is based at Vance Brand Airport in Longmont. At the time of the court filing, Ms. Gibbs was the only named plaintiff in addition to that of an LLC filing she set up in the name of Citizens for Quiet Skies, of which she was also the registered agent. She later would add those living at four other Boulder County addresses to her own name on the list of seven total (five individuals and two married couples) as named plaintiffs (Gibbs/Timothy Lim, Robert Yates, Suzanne Webel, John Behrens/Carla Behrens, and Richard Dauer), in addition to an unknown number of people she named publicly only as “Citizens For Quiet Skies, LLC.”

On January 20, 2015, Ms. Gibbs appeared before Longmont City Council on behalf of Citizens for Quiet Skies, stating that the city needed to either adopt a comprehensive noise abatement plan that includes mandatory limits on skydiving operations and addresses other local concerns, like (airplane) touch-and-go’s, and helicopters. It was at this meeting (video of which can be found at THIS link) that she presented her other choice:

“Close the airport.” According to Ms. Gibbs, “It is an option.”

On April 13, 2015, a five day open court, non-jury civil trial began under the docket of Boulder County District Court Judge Judith LaBuda at the Boulder County Justice Center, in Courtroom “Q”. Below are rough observations, courtoom notes, and highlights gleaned from each day of court:

  • The “Q” courtroom is packed, with the room divided to the left behind Ms. Gibbs and her attorneys and to the right behind Mile-Hi Skydiving owner Mr. Frank Casares and his attorneys. Behind them, a vast majority are found sitting in the rows behind Mr. Casares, dressed in purple and/or wearing purple ribbons with a silver colored airplane pin (later found to signify the purple Twin Otter, which gets mentioned during the majority of testimony.) Witnesses for both sides are “sequestered” and not allowed in the courtroom during prior testimonies, but plaintiffs for the case are. Because there are 6 named plaintiffs for CFQS, they sit in the rows behind Ms. Gibbs. (Note: addresses of plaintiffs and witnesses have been removed from this article, but their proximity to airport is mentioned). Depositions were also taken on many of those testifying, and some unsealed during court testimony.
  • Citizens for Quiet Skies (CFQS) attorneys are Randall Weiner, Matthew Osofsky, and Annmarie Cording. Mr. Weiner presents opening arguments outlining a bit about each named plaintiff who will later testify. He states their case will talk about “four things” which are “Pattern, Frequency, Duration, and Decibels. He states the homes of the plaintiffs are worth “5-10% less” and will use comparisons of LAX and Chicago, but that it’s not the size of the airport, but what happens there. He refers to “recreational interests.” He states the issue has increased 70% under current Mile-Hi Skydiving owner Frank Casares from 2008-2014. He’s trying to make the case that Longmont noise restrictions limits should apply to aviation noise, and that the noise from MHS exceeded 55 decibels ten times. He goes on to state that the judge can impose monetary compensation (and states he has data from nine jurisdictions for comparison). He states that the judge can impose injunctions. He talks about the experts they will call: Matthew Robinson (aviation), Robert Rand (acoustics). They also have Robert Meyers (real estate appraiser).
  • Mile-Hi Skydiving (MHS) attorneys are Anthony Leffert, Laura Ellenberger. Mr. Leffert opens by saying “There are no bad guys in the courtroom” and that the homeowners purchased property between two regional airports, but that they have subjective opinions that don’t reflect how the community as a whole feels about the airport or MHS. He states that Kim Gibbs is responsible for riling up a small portion of the Boulder County and Longmont community against MHS and encouraged them to complain about the airport and MHS. He talks about how MHS has contributed $4.7M to the city and that most plaintiffs live within 3 miles around the airport. He states the acoustics noise expert used by the plaintiffs used Danish Ministry of Health standards which are not used in the U.S. by the FAA. He states that homes in the “Airport Influence Zone” (AIZ) actually appreciated faster. He mentions that the aviation expert is really a crash investigator and his experience is not applicable in an aviation “noise” case. He also notes that weather deviations were not factored into the data of MHS operations.

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Writers Note: Courtroom testimony is lengthy in this case. It was after four days of testimony, that the judge announced to the courtroom that this case had exhausted all the court reporters in that judicial district court and that they won’t come back, and the “chief” court reporter supervisor had taken over. You can find a running update of testimony at this website link. Check the link often as it will be constantly updated as courtroom notes are being transcribed.Other media presence was spotty, but not there the entire five days of case testimony. A “site visit” order issued by the judge occurred this weekend (after being rescheduled due to weather) and you can read about it now at the below related link.

Closing arguments are scheduled for this Wednesday, May 6th at 2pm, and the judge can either issue a “directed verdict” (as requested by MHS’ defense attorney on the last day of court testimony) or take up to 60 days to issue a ruling.

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