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County grounds balloon company

Melanie Wongmwong@vaildaily.comVail, CO Colorado
EDL Baloon PU 8-29-07
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EDWARDS For more than 20 years Ron Miller has given people a birds-eye view of the Vail Valley from his hot-air balloons, but now he may be without a place to land because of stricter county regulations.Miller, the owner of Balloon America, used to fly his balloon tours out of the Miller Ranch area in Edwards. Now the area is too populated with Freedom Park, a neighborhood and schools for him to do that without considerable insurance, said Eagle County Assistant Attorney Christina Hooper.Hot-air ballooning is an inherently dangerous activity, Hooper said. In the event that something were to go wrong during one of (his) hot-air-balloon flights, regardless of how unlikely that chance might be, the consequences would be extensive.But Miller thinks the concerns are unreasonable there only has been one recorded hot-air-ballooning accident in Eagle County, which involved a minor injury, he said and he feels he is being run out of business.Whitewater rafting is far more dangerous and those companies can still operate, he said.After 22 years of accident- and incident-free operations, I have been told to take a hike, Miller said.Sky-high insuranceThe county first asked that Miller get a permit to fly from the area last summer, which he did. Then, later in the fall, the county changed the insurance requirement for Miller from $100,000 per person to $1 million per person, an amount that is not even available in the industry, Miller said.The county wants Miller to have a total of $2 million in insurance $1 million per passenger for injury and $1 million for property damage.We came up with (that amount) based on risks involved with such a highly populated area with a childrens soccer field and everything, Hooper said. What he had wouldnt even cover (the cost) of an accident. In the end he wasnt able to meet the insurance requirement, she said. The $100,000-per-person insurance Miller had is the industry norm, said Merlin Sagon, owner of Camelot Balloons, the only other hot-air-balloon operator in the county.Sagons balloons land and launch from private property near the airport, but he said he also used to operate from Edwards until it became too crowded.Balloons and jetsNow Millers best option is to fly out of the Eagle County Regional Airport, something Federal Air Administration regulations allow him to do, he said.Not so, said airport officials.The county told Miller that hot-air balloons cannot operate within a five-mile radius of the airport. The county threatened a Federal Aviation Administration investigation and legal action if he tried to do so.It isnt going to happen, not in the confines of the airfield, said airport manager Ovid Seifers. Its simply a safety issue.Miller is petitioning Federal Aviation Administration officials in Denver to take his side. I think the county just doesnt want to deal with any potential liability and theyre pulling out every guy they have to stop me from flying, he said.Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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