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Skydivers interested in renting at Garrett

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MCHENRY -- Tandem skydiving may come to the Garrett County Airport if the Pittsburgh Skydiving Center Inc. meets four requirements set by the Garrett County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Saying an agreement should be no more restrictive nor more liberal than others operating out of the airport, the commissioners agreed with the recommendation of the Garrett County Airport Commission.

Director of General Services Gary Mullich presented an official request from the Pittsburgh Skydiving Center in December for a formal lease agreement with the airport by Jan. 31.

The commissioners approved the request but did not agree to a waiver of liability insurance. The county does not have any building space to lease to the center, and area for land lease would need to be added to the Airport Layout Plan and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. Electricity and water are not provided to land lease tenants; they provide their own.

"You would have to have a good reason to deny anyone the use of the airport," Mullich said, since it receives federal funds. The skydiving center would have to give the county a hold-harmless agreement and would have to have an agreement with the county if it uses the airport as a base of operation.

Don Bick of the skydiving club, which operates out of Connellsville (Pa.) Airport, met with members of the advisory group in December. He would like a standard three- or five-year lease, beginning May 1, with an option to renew. The group is interested in leasing appropriate building space or installing a mobile office.

The county requires $1 million general liability coverage. The skydiving group has $1 million in premise or "slip and fall" insurance, and $50,000 in third-party insurance for all licensed skydivers through the United States Parachute Association, but says it cannot get general liability coverage, Mullich said.

Bob Railey, a local pilot, said the group seemed to have a pretty smooth operation at Connellsville. He said it might be possible for them to just use a trailer as an office on weekends. He felt it would be an attractive business for the county and could not see any airplane operations vs. skydiving issues that would hinder either activity.

Ken Wishnick, president of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, said the skydiving club had joined the chamber and asked if any staff members wanted to jump. "A few are actually considering it," said Wishnick.

"I would love to do this myself," said Deb Clatterbuck of the chamber. "You would be jumping with a jump master," she said, stressing safety must be first.

The addition of the skydiving, Clatterbuck said, "would be an inclusion of another adventure sport and of course, the increased amusement tax received off that." Also the number of take-offs and landings at the airport would help make it eligible for an increased runway.

"Dick assured us the jump would not interfere with any planes coming in, and would not take up much room at the airport," said Caroline Hill, co-manager of the Garrett County Airport. "He said they were quite busy up in Connellsville. They haven't had any problems, but there are a lot of questions to be answered.

"Some local people have supported him and I think there is an interest," she said. She is worried some about parking problems because of the participants and curiosity-seekers the event would draw.

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