Horry County grounds Skydive Myrtle Beach - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Horry County grounds Skydive Myrtle Beach

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Grand Strand Airport is no longer the home to Skydive Myrtle Beach. The business has been evicted after ongoing litigation with Horry County.

"Now we're getting a decision to shut us down from the Horry County government," said Aaron Holly, owner of Skydive Myrtle Beach. "No notice. No violation and without due process."

"We're saving lives," said Lisa Bourcier, spokesperson for Horry County. "We want to make sure that people are safe."

The conflicts began when Horry County took over airport operations back in 2013.

Skydive Myrtle Beach signed a temporary space use permit that lasted until January 2014. 

Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti said the business hasn't had an agreement to operate at the Grand Strand Airport since that time. 

Holly said the county wanted 24 percent of his profits. 

"When I refused to sign that, well I guess the campaign started that we're going to have problems with this guy," Holly said.

Carotti said that percentage was a mistake and the request was changed to 10% of profits.

Holly filed a discrimination lawsuit against Horry County in February 2014 and also sent in a complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Meanwhile, the county started filing for Skydive Myrtle Beach's eviction in the summer of 2014 based on the fact the business was using the space without an agreement.

"Basically, they were operating illegally for quite a long time," Bourcier said.

That case wasn't resolved until last week when the judge ordered the business to be evicted. 

"Horry County has demonstrated that it suffers substantial risk by virtue of SDMB's continuing operations from Horry County property," Judge Larry Hyman said in the decision papers.

Click the link below to read Judge Hyman's order that allowed the eviction in PDF format:

http://ftpcontent4.worldnow.com/wmbf/pdf/Judge%20Hyman's%20Order%20-%20SDMB.pdf

Also, only days before that decision, the FAA's investigation into Holly's complaint came back with a 73-page response detailing safety violations.

You can download that document at the following link. WARNING: This is a large, 10-megabyte PDF file: http://ftpcontent4.worldnow.com/wmbf/pdf/Part%2016%20decision.sm.pdf

In that document, the FAA suggested the county take action up to closing the business' drop zone or Horry County could lose federal funding.

"They did come down on the county for one thing and that was us not taking a more aggressive and more timely approach to doing something about the issues that were going on with Skydive Myrtle Beach," Bourcier said.

Holly said the allegations of safety violations are unfounded.

"We've done 10,000-plus individual drops without incidents and all of our customers only tell you of how safe they felt," he said.

Instructors also said they follow strict safety guidelines.

"You're not going to find a single person in 2015 who has been injured, who has damaged property. That's what makes an incident," said Alex Torre, an instructor. "Did we injure anybody? Did we damage any property?"

Holly said there is no basis to back up the 211 incident reports listed in the FAA document.

"The FAA has never come down and investigated," he said. "There's no report of the violation. There's no ticket. Nothing."

However, in pages 16-17 of the document, the FAA writes: 

"On August 12, 2015, and as a result of SDMB's failure to respond to multiple FSDO [Flight Standards District Office] requests for information, FSDO personnel visited SDMB once again. Upon arrival, the FSDO inspectors were denied access to the aircraft, records, certified parachute riggers, and entrance to the hangar...'We have attached a video, and still pictures of a parachutist landing on the ramp/taxiway area of the airport. These photographs and video show the parachutist land in front of an aircraft, the aircraft stopping, and the parachutist pulling his parachute out of the way of the aircraft.'"

Holly said the majority of the violations were for not landing in a designated drop zone, which he said is smaller than FAA guidelines. He also said he was found in violation of regulations he didn't know existed that had been passed through Horry County Council.

"No public notice, hearing or comment period and we had no idea these rules were being passed," Holly said.

Bourcier said the regulations went through the required approval process in committee and council meetings. She also provided documentation of Holly's participation at a town hall meeting in November 2014 about the county's proposed standards. The standards were passed in January 2015.

Holly said he has not been able to access the details of the specific violations against him.

A letter to Holly dated May 11, 2015 from the Horry County Department of Airports included information on specific violations. 

Also, an email from the assistant director of airports, Jason Terreri, to Holly dated June 27, 2014, states:

"As a first step to improving safety and operational efficiency at CRE, I have implemented an incident reporting system for all events that create an unsafe operating condition at the airport. Attached are two most recent reported by the FAA. I would be more than happy to meet with you at your convenience to try to determine what steps we can take to avoid similar incidents in the future."

Holly replied to that email saying the attached document with the information on those violations was blank.

"It's akin to somebody making an allegation against a person and the police coming and arresting you being the judge and jury and you have no clue why you're being arrested," Holly said.

Instructors maintain customers do not have unsafe experiences at Skydive Myrtle Beach.

"I've been doing this for so long, I've never had anybody injured and you can see from our Facebook pages, our YouTube pages, our Trip Advisor, everybody everywhere is absolutely in love with Skydive Myrtle Beach," Torre said.

Some of the instructors moved to the area for a job they no longer have.

"It's been pretty hard. It's hard to get a job here. I moved my whole family down from Indiana," said Beau Broderick.

Holly has an appeal case against Horry County now in the circuit court of appeals.

"We pretty much won in magistrate's court. We also won in circuit court. And we have won with the FAA as well," Bourcier said.

Bourcier said the county has racked up costs during the litigation process.

Skydive Myrtle Beach started a GoFundMe page for legal costs: https://www.gofundme.com/vp77eakw

Copyright 2015 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

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