The Skydiving Effect

Once again, there will be no skydiving in Chatham this summer.

Some residents will no doubt greet that news with cheers. Others will see it as giving in to “not in my backyard” pressure. Most will see little or no impact to their own lives and will move on with a shrug. Yet there is a lesson here that residents, and especially the town's business community, should heed.

It's been more than three years since town officials declined to renew Skydive Cape Cod's contract to operate out of Chatham Municipal Airport. Since then, the Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the town must allow skydiving after taking millions in federal airport dollars to improve the George Ryder Road facility. The agency ordered the town to solicit for skydiving vendors. But in the meantime, a group of residents organized as Citizens for a Safe Chatham Airport sought an injunction to prohibit skydiving. Last week, a Barnstable Superior Court judge set a Dec. 4 trial date on the suit. The FAA has not pushed the town on pursuing skydiving while the case was in court, and selectmen were scheduled to decide this week whether to continue to hold off on issuing a contract until the case is tried.

Meanwhile, this will be the fourth summer skydiving has been absent from Chatham Airport, a benefit to opponents but a huge loss for the company that operates the facility on behalf of the town. The operation not only brought in revenue to the airport, but it brought in folks who no doubt spent time and money in town. What's most worrying, however, is that a small group of homeowners near the airport have succeeded in squashing a seasonal business whose perceived disruption could happen anyway – Chatham's airport is open to general aviation and there's no control over the volume of aircraft taking off and landing. Safety concerns also exist with or without skydiving. This leads us to wonder what would happen if residents in other locations organized to oppose businesses or other activities they don't like. Could downtown residents oppose The Squire staying open beyond 9 or 10 p.m. because of the noise and traffic? Could Shore Road homeowners file suit to stop fishermen from disturbing their sleep when boats leave for the fishing groups in the wee hours of the morning? What about the traffic generated by Harding's Beach – a situation ripe for pedestrian and auto accidents – or the noise from Chatham A's games? What about a new restaurant, suddenly more popular than the quiet business it replaced? And hey, if you live on Chatham Bars Avenue, Friday night band concerts are a nuisance and an accident waiting to happen.

OK, those examples are far-fetched, but the point is made. All of those activities and businesses existed before many of the folks who live around them were there, and are subject to increases and declines depending on economic and seasonable fluctuations, exactly like the airport. The town needs to defend against the skydiving injunction because this type of victory could embolden others, and the imagination is the limit as to what the consequences might be.