Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Valley from above

From a hot air balloon over California's Coachella Valley, you can see several geographic fault lines, including the San Andreas (2nd image, details here). You can also see Mission Santa Rosa, a private olive farm (3rd image). But the owners of that farm have sued the local balloon companies, including Steve and Cindy Wilkinson of Fantasy Balloon Flights (1st image), for additional guarantees of privacy. Their legal actions - and the 24' high, 4' thick security walls, guard turrets, and signs warning that trespassers will be met with armed response - are fueling speculation about the reasons for their seeming paranoia. The Marrelli family, owners of the 80-acre property on which they built a compound in the style of a Moorish castle, are annoyed by the nuisance of up to 20 balloons a day overhead, and are trying to protect the privacy of their VIP guests and their R&D secrets. They are succeeding, and have forced more than a dozen local hot air balloon companies out of business despite the fact that none of them were breaking federal aviation law. Balloonists also point out that the are forced to go where the wind takes them. One local pilot who closed down his business said, "It's pretty much the worst spot to be if you don't like balloons." In their defense, the Marellis explain, "Stories...only partly detail how we have unwillingly become a featured tourist attraction from the air....On any given day, over the past few years, we have been awakened as early as 6:30 a.m. to the sound of balloon burners as they drop down as low as window level of our top floor. With it comes a basket of people shouting hello and snapping pictures of us. We might be in our pajamas or trying to enjoy a cup of coffee on the patio, and suddenly there are people gawking at us and trying to converse as if they were just passers-by." But the Marrellis also had objections to low-flying planes and brought suit against a crop-duster, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the FAA. The family has dropped their lawsuit against the Wilkinsons, whose business is now down 80%, while at the same time applying for a permit for their own helipad.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may add your comments here.