By Lukas Eggen Ely Times Staff Writer

White Pine County Commissioner Mike Lemich responded to criticisms concerning the County’s stance on camping by glider pilots at the Ely Airport. The County Commission voted in the past to not allow camping at the airport because it’s in violation of the Ely Jet Center’s lease.

Glider pilots and supporters of camping at the airport said banning camping will have negative effects in the future.

“My problem is with the county and its liability,” Lemich said. “The first issue backing up a long ways is, ‘I don’t fly an airplane or anything like that.’ We had a complaint initially of so many UHaul trailers out there at the airport that the airplanes can’t get through them to get fuel. We had a complaint from the car dealership that they’re selling cars at the airport. Both of the issues are a fact. Then we get complaints from people like KOA, the trailer parks about people out there.”

Lemich said the Ely Jet Center is in violation of its lease to sell cars and to allow camping at the airport.

Lemich said the commission sent a letter to the Ely Jet Center on Aug. 29 of last year stating that the Jet Center was in violation of its lease. In recent meetings, District Attorney Kelly Brown, who signed the letter sent last year, has changed his advice, telling the commission if the Jet Center filed a lawsuit against the county, the county stood a good chance of losing such a lawsuit. Lemich said based on the information he’s looked at, that’s not true.

“They’re contending there’s no violation of their agreement,” Lemich said. “Based on the information I have and what is discussed, there is a violation. In the meantime, we went to our insurance guys, who insures everyone in the county and said for our protection, you’ve got to get a clause in their insurance that specifies they’ll give us a letter documenting that they are insured for camping.

“We don’t have that letter and we still don’t have that letter today. The lease pertains to aeronautical issues, flying, fueling airplanes, fixing airplanes, it has nothing to do with camping. So for the benefit of the county and the protection of the county, we’ve got to get a certificate of insurance holding the county harmless if there’s any issues with camping.”

In addition to concerns about insurance liability, Lemich said the county can’t make a special case for camping at the airport for the gliders because the county can’t be in competition with local businesses.

“The most major thing is we have a whole bunch of liability regarding competition with private business,” Lemich said. “Can the county justify being in competition with them? What would be the difference if we had another provider of airline fuel just off the Jet Center’s lease property and say go and sell all the fuel you want. We can’t be partial. The trailer parks pay taxes and they pay business licenses. For us to allow camping, we’re competing with Valley View trailer park and the rest of them.”

Supporters of the movement to allow camping at the airport have said camping allows more of a feeling of togetherness and allows pertinent information about weather conditions and more to be passed along to other pilots. Other gliders have said banning camping at the airport will result in the county seeing a significant decrease in the number of glider pilots coming to Ely each year.

Lemich said he’s not against the gliders but the county can’t afford to put itself at risk from an insurance standpoint or put itself in competition with area businesses and deny potential room tax revenue used for various projects.

“There’s money for the swimming pool, money for the golf course, money for camp success and more,” Lemich said. “Why would we compete? It’s crazy to do that.”

© 2013 The Ely Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.