A group of area model plane and helicopter pilots are hoping to make Columbia County's trashiest spot their new airfield.
Members of the recently formed Columbia County Airmasters are asking county officials to allow them to improve, maintain and use the Columbia County Landfill as their home flying zone.
"When we walked out here, we all salivated," Chris Bottomley, Airmasters president, said of a large flat area at the now-defunct landfill. "That's the perfect length for a runway and way wide enough."
Airmasters officers met with county officials at the landfill site to discuss possible details of a public-private partnership that would allow the group to sponsor and use the area to fly their model airplanes and helicopters.
The landfill closed in July 2006. The Environmental Protection Division will not allow the landfill to be used for anything except recreation for 30 years, said Matt Schlachter, county construction and maintenance services director.
County officials have concerns about insurance coverage and restricted use of the landfill.
"We don't want to make it exclusive," said Schlachter. "We don't want to start this (where) the Columbia County Airmasters has the ability to pick and choose who they want out there. It has got to be one of those (where) anybody who wants to join can join."
The details of the partnership are still being discussed. But Justin Cherepy, club secretary, said only club members and guests will be allowed to fly at the landfill, but club membership is open to any member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
Many Airmasters members belong to the Trenton RC Flyers, who use a rarely used taxiway at the Edgefield County Airport. But Columbia County and other area pilots usually travel at least an hour to an area to fly.
"I would love to know that I could stay in my hometown and enjoy my weekends," said Richard Seng, Airmasters vice president and a former Grovetown resident who recently moved to North Augusta.
Pilots are not covered by their AMA insurance if they pilot the planes, which cost from $40 to several thousand dollars, in residential areas or other non-AMA approved flight zones. If the partnership is approved, the landfill would be an AMA-approved landing zone and all AMA members using it, the county and spectators would be covered.
"We know of 20 or 30 (pilots) right off the top who are chomping at the bit," Bottomley said.
The club would agree to improve and maintain the landfill area in addition to policing those using the field.
"We're going to invest a lot in the beginning," said Bottomley, referencing about $8,000 of sod the club plans to install on the site to make for softer and safer landings. "The quicker the better. We don't want to miss grass-growing season."
Bottomley said the club also will hold events such as fly-ins that would bring pilots and spectators into the county. Cherepy said it is estimated that each visitor to special events will spend about $150 in the area for lodging, food and other services.
Though the club would organize events, club safety officer Richard Prouty said other organizations would be allowed to provide refreshments or other services as fundraisers for charities or their own organizations.
"It is here to benefit the community," Prouty said.
Chris Bottomley, president of Columbia County Airmasters, discusses with county officials the club's plans to construct a landing strip at the county landfill. The club has offered to improve and invest in the area.
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