Proposed Severn Seaplane Base Awash In Criticism

April 23, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

A Clements Creek pilot who wants to land his seaplane regularly on the Severn River is taking flak from neighbors, who say the proposed landing area is too narrow and congested and his flying too erratic.

Pilot Charlie Hunter, who holds an air-speed record for Annapolis to Los Angeles, is seeking to register Maryland's first private, non-commercial seaplane base on a 5,000-foot strip between Brewer and Saltworks creeks.

But neighbors from the Saefern, Epping Forest and Sherwood Forestcommunities attempted to shoot Hunter down Wednesday night, asking an administrative law judge to reject his request. They said they fearthe base would generate excessive noise, cause environmental damage and could lead to tragedy.

Hunter has proposed his base on the narrowest, most congested portion of the Severn, one of the most congested rivers in the state, said Natural Resources Police Sgt. Steven Vaughn. The Department of Natural Resources lists 5,652 registered boatson that waterway.

John Donaldson, a neighbor and commercial airline pilot, said he worries that the seaplane could collide with the power boats, skiers and sailboarders moving in and out of the river's creeks and coves. "It appears to me to be a very bad mix of watercraftand seaplanes," he said.

Other residents also challenged Hunter'sjudgment as a pilot, recalling what they described as near-tragedies.

"I'll never forget Memorial Day four years ago, standing out at the barbecue, when I thought I was going to witness the most hellacious accident ever," said Mitchell Bober of Epping Forest, referring toHunter landing a seaplane on Clements Creek.

Louise "Bug" Mead, another seaplane pilot, said she, too, has seen Hunter take off and land on Clements Creek. "It's one of the scariest things I've ever seen," she said. "It's an accident waiting to happen."

Mead said she occasionally lands in Round Bay and taxis for several minutes to her waterfront home in the Briar Cliff on the Severn community. She recommended that Hunter's proposed landing zone be moved to Round Bay. "I think it's absolutely bizarre that you would try to exert your rights as a pilot to land there (Clements Creek)," she told Hunter.

Del. Marsha G. Perry, a Crofton Democrat, said she proposed banning seaplanes on the Severn in 1989 after constituents complained about Hunter's flying. Although she withdrew the bill, which she said tried to "kill an ant with a sledgehammer," Hunter has continued to display disregard and "arrogance" toward his neighbors, she said.

Hunter, who said he averages about 50 take-offs and landings a month, told his neighbors he understands their concerns about safety. "I hear you, and Iwill exercise the same good judgment that I have for 25 years," he said.

He said he has done nothing illegal and challenged the residents questioning his judgment to report him to the Federal Aviation Administration, which issued his pilot's license.

A ruling on Hunter's base is expected within 30 days.

The Maryland Aviation Administration asked Hunter to register his controversial base last year after the FAA recognized his use of the air space behind his waterfront home in the Downs on the Severn community. The base is already marked on aeronautical charts with a small anchor.

Charles Bell, an assistant attorney general assigned to the MAA, said Hunter must register as a base because he flies in and out regularly, as opposed to pilotslike Mead, who land only occasionally. Although private airports, essentially what Hunter is proposing, are not regulated like public airports, they still must be registered, Bell said.

Bob Richardson, executive director of the Sea Pilots Association, based in Frederick, said Hunter has fought to get his base marked on aeronautical charts in an attempt to stave off future efforts to ban him from the river.

Richardson said his group, which represents 5,000 pilots worldwide, has not taken a position on Hunter's base, but is watching the caseanxiously.

"It could establish a bad precedent for seaplanes in the state if the citizens can shut him down," Richardson said.

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