FOR THE RECORD (September 5, 1997): Incorrect spelling: A story in Thursday’s paper about Hackney Airpark at Athol, Idaho, misspelled the name of landowner Robin Porter.
The “For Sale” sign went out a few months ago. And although it may seem like a signal of defeat, Jerry Cooper still talks angrily about how much his airplane maintenance business has fallen at a place he has called home for more than 20 years.
“I’d say it’s hurt my business almost 50 percent, at least,” said Cooper, who runs his business at the Hackney Airpark in this town of 346 people.
“It” is a battle raging for more than four years among almost 30 landowners at this tiny, privately owned airpark. Half say the airport should allow anyone to fly in. The others claim it’s private property and they must give permission to everyone taking off and landing.
The airport currently is considered private, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
But Cooper and others argue the airport always has been operated like a public facility.
“When I moved out here, it used to be a fun place,” said the 55-year-old maintenance inspector, who moved to the airport in 1976. “No more.”
Standing in in his hangar’s repair shop in jeans, a green T-shirt and black flip-flops, Cooper admitted he gets angry even talking about it.
“They’re throttling us off,” Cooper said, squeezing his hands into fists.
When he moved here, weekends were filled with air shows, and the 3,500-foot grassy strip was used for parachuting and flight instruction.
Anyone - a flight instructor, a student or a pilot making an emergency landing - could fly into the airport.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the airpark became invitation-only sometime between 1981 and 1982.
The move from public to private wasn’t handled properly, claims airpark resident and businessman Roger Dunham.
Dunham has filed a lawsuit in Kootenai County court, alleging his neighbors and fellow landowners misrepresented the airport to the FAA and have refused to maintain the airfield.
Dunham gives flight instruction, does movie work and aerial video work through his company Rare Air.
And his company may become a rarity, he said, if the landowners choose to view this airport as a private sandbox.
“If you’re viewed as a bunch of snobs that have a little playground, you’re going down,” he said.
This territorial attitude has even become dangerous, he said. In his lawsuit, Dunham claims neighbors have run onto the runway in front of his incoming plane to keep him from landing.
“They’re letting basic safety issues slip,” he said.
Because the FAA considers Hackney a private airport, it does not enforce fines for interfering with traffic, FAA officials say.
Landowners like Robert Smith, who runs a repair shop, said opening the airfield to anyone means opening up the airport to major lawsuits and liabilities.
‘I personally don’t feel that’s prudent,” he said.
Others say it boils down to neighborliness. That’s a tough spot when you combine business with living.
Some want to live away from the hustle and bustle of airplanes flying overhead and are concerned about the quality of life.
“I don’t want it to be public. This is where my children are being raised. I don’t want a bunch of airplanes flying overhead,” said landowner Robin Potter, who has two children in high school and who moved to the airpark seven years ago.
But others laugh, at that notion.
“Well, then why did they move to an airport?” Dunham asked.
Hackney Airpark Corp. President Daniel Zaccanti declined comment, as did Gilbert Bates, secretary and treasurer of the corporation.
“This is a wonderful place to live,” Potter said. “It’s not a hostile environment. It’s just a difference in mind.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.