Skydiving company grounded by airport

Airport leaders say company never paid for special permit

Published On: Jul 30 2012 04:40:41 PM EDT   Updated On: Jul 30 2012 08:47:44 PM EDT
ST. MARYS, Ga. -

A southeast Georgia skydiving company is grounded after a fallout with the airport.

The owner of The Jumping Place Skydiving said that over the weekend, St. Marys Airport leaders told them no one was allowed to jump because the company didn't pay for a special permit.

Those with the company say they tried to pay the permit and have followed all the rules from the airport. Now they say their business is in a free fall.

The company's planes are not allowed to take up any skydivers at the moment, and anyone caught doing so could be charged with criminal trespassing.

"We were shut down for an entire weekend without authority," said Casey Kloess-Finley, whose family owns the skydiving company.

Kloess-Finley said that Saturday, police kept their business on the ground, citing orders from the airport authority board. The group was appointed by the city to oversee the city-owned airport.

"We had customers threatened by St. Marys police officers that they'd be arrested," Kloess-Finley said. "That is damage to this business that will never ever be recovered."

It's a long and complicated fight that started about six months ago. The airport board's attorney, Jim Stein, said there are certain state and federal guidelines that required a new permit for skydivers, and that new permit would cost the company $4,800 a year.

Stein said those at The Jumping Place have not cooperated and won't fill out the necessary paperwork. The company said it did put in an application for the permit and wrote a check for the nearly $5,000 fee. That check was returned, and the board said the paperwork was wrong.

"The fee is not only too high, but we are the only commercial operator being assessed this fee, which is much more important than the actual cost," Kloess-Finley said.

Now it's a stalemate. The skydiving company says the move is discrimination against its business, and the airport board says the company isn't complying.

"The City Council has not had a meeting on this particular issue," St. Marys City Manager Steve Crowell said. "They're waiting on the airport authority to attempt to resolve it."

Richard Russell, the former chairman of the authority board who first allowed the skydiving company and owner Cathy Kloess on the property, said the company is good for the city, bringing in thousands of people and so much money to St. Marys each year. He hopes a compromise can be quickly made.

"She has operated here continually since 2006, and I might say she's got a perfect safety record," Russell said.

The owner of The Jumping Place said she hopes to have all this resolved by next weekend, but she said if the two sides can't come to an agreement, she'll be forced to take legal action.