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Tue, Feb 12, 2008

Valkaria Airport Opponent Elected To Advisory Board

Pilots, Advocates Decry Unusual Move

"Hiring an arsonist as fire chief would surprise me less." That's how Palm Bay, FL city councilman -- and former Valkaria Airport board chairman -- Milo Zonka summarized the recent appointment of a longtime airport critic to the Valkaria Airport advisory board.

Florida Today reports Brevard County Commissioner Chuck Nelson appointed Janis Walters to the airport commission... despite her apparent opposition to the airport's very existence. While the move pleased airport neighbors, it left supporters aghast.

"She's so anti-airport, it's frightening," said pilot and 11-year board member Dr. Russell Minton. The sentiment was echoed by fellow Commissioner Helen Voltz, who called the appointment a disaster at last Thursday's meeting.

As ANN reported, a master plan for Valkaria Airport (X59) finally won approval last August, after months of disagreement between airport supporters and critics. Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the plan, which includes repaving two runways at the airport, building a new parallel taxiway, and adding hangars for up to 100 planes, among other much-needed changes.

Walters, along with associate Curt Lorenc, has battled against the commission for years. Most recently, she fought vehemently against the master plan, stating the improvements would lead to more, and larger, aircraft using the facility.

Nelson attempted to downplay the criticism of his decision, saying his experience working with Walters, going back to the 1990s, has only been positive. He said he views Walters as a detail-oriented person, who asks valid questions.

"She'll be a good addition in watching as the process evolves," he said.

Walters notes she served on the board before, and knows what the job requires. "My opinions as an individual are quite different from my function on the advisory board," she said, adding she supports Valkaria's use as "a small recreational facility."

Several residents have complained the airport board has been dominated in recent years by pilots and aviation advocates. Board member Don Darby believes Walters will bring a balance to the often-contentious board, and will represent community interests.

"I am positive about her appointment," he said. "We've gone for so long with very little voice on the board, that it's good to have more representation for the community."

FMI: www.brevardcounty.us/valkaria_airport/, www.valkariaairfest.org

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