Skydiving, FBO proposal still on table

PAXTON — The Paxton City Council’s airport committee will meet Thursday following an  adjourned meeting of the full council.

The committee will discuss correspondence from Gifford resident Jef LeRette, who more than a year ago sought to lease the city-owned hangar at the local airport and serve as the facility’s fixed-base operator.

Former Airport Committee Chairman Brad Marshall said he did not think the city should  pursue further negotiations with LeRette, saying that the pilot had been remiss in not getting back to the city sooner.

Marshall also said he did not think Paxton would benefit from LeRette serving as fixed-base operator for the airport while also operating a proposed skydiving school at the airport.

Marshall said he had problems with LeRette wanting to serve alcohol to skydivers after their dives on what is city property and building some bunks for them to stay in the hangar onsite. Marshall said that would not help sales at the local motel and restaurants.

Bill Wylie, a former alderman and local pilot, also opposes doing business with LeRette just as he did last year. But another local pilot, Rob Steiger, said LeRette has a “solid business in the middle of nowhere in Flatville.”

“Why don’t you move forward with it, see what he has to say?” said Steiger.

Alderman Bill Goben agreed.

“Get something going on (the airport) and I won’t want to close it,” said Goben, who three years ago was the catalyst for a failed proposal to close the airport. The measure was defeated 8-3.

Meanwhile, the newest alderman and airport committee chairman, Marc Amore, said he is ready to move forward with discussions with LeRette and decided the committee should meet Thursday.

With an FBO available, Amore noted, the city may “avoid” some costs that are currently unavoidable with no FBO stationed at the airport. Such costs include paying city employees overtime to go to the airport after business hours on  weekdays and weekends to turn on the fuel pumps whenever pilots need to fuel up.

Last year LeRette proposed he or one of his employees would be stationed at the airport during daylight hours to assist pilots with fuel sales.

Wylie said that might be difficult as LeRette works full-time in Danville.

LeRette said then he might offer some skydiving exhibition events that might bring large crowds to Paxton, and that more activity at the airport might also help the city have a better chance of being awarded grants. The city tried unsuccessfully a few years ago to get a grant for the resurfacing of its aging runway.

Under the original proposal a couple of years ago, LeRette proposed leasing the city-owned hangar “rent-free,” at least initially. A revised lease agreement would need to be worked out.

LeRette noted that his business carries liability insurance to protect both his business and the city in the case of an accident.

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