July 13, 2008

Seaplane Limits on Lake Arlington Are Turned Down

By Susan Schrock, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Jul. 13--ARLINGTON -- Boaters on Lake Arlington could find themselves sharing the waves with seaplanes.

The Texas Department of Transportation denied the city's request to restrict when pilots could operate seaplanes on the lake. The city had wanted to limit seaplane operations to daytime hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the city typically reports little boat traffic.

However, state law says cities can't ban aquatic aircraft from waterways where boats are allowed. Lake Cypress Springs in northeast Texas is the only public lake with state-approved restrictions. Pilots are prohibited from making night landings or touch-and-go landings on that lake, which is even smaller than Lake Arlington, said Bill Gunn, compliance coordinator with the state aviation division.

Arlington officials made the request to the state after two seaplane pilots inquired about conducting water landings. "We just figured most people fishing on Lake Arlington are not thinking a plane might land there," said Teris Solis, assistant city attorney. "We had safety concerns."

Lake Arlington is four miles long, and its widest point is one mile. Hundreds of boaters use the lake each year.

State officials and pilots say seaplanes are no more dangerous than boats. Pilots are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and are prohibited from operating in a manner that would endanger property or other people, Gunn said.

Gunn said there are only hundreds of seaplane pilots in Texas, and he doesn't expect Lake Arlington will be overrun with aquatic aircraft.

"We're going to watch what happens here and if it gets to be a problem, then we can revisit the issue," Gunn said.

State review

Arlington is the first city in about a decade to officially request that the state impose seaplane restrictions, Gunn said.

The state Transportation Department will allow Arlington to recommend that pilots operate on the lake only between dawn and 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and to ask pilots not to make touch-and-go landings or use the lake for training, Gunn said.

The decision must be reviewed by the governor-appointed Transportation Commission, which could uphold the state's decision or decide to allow restrictions on seaplane operations.

About 50 daily boat permits are sold each weekend from March through August, and the lake can become crowded with as few as 30 boats, city officials wrote to the state. The heaviest boat traffic is typically after 4 p.m. each weekday and all day on weekends and holidays.

'Seaplane prejudice'

City Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, who represents west Arlington, said she worries about the residents who live near the lake. More than 260 homes have lake frontage, according to the city.

"Even if it's legal, even if it's safe, people should be notified so they are expecting it," said Wilemon, who added that she has contacted state legislators with her concerns.

David DeVries, who lives one street away from the lake, said he is trying to keep an open mind about the seaplane landings.

"Obviously that's something I'm not real thrilled about," said DeVries, president of the Waterwood Estates Neighborhood Association. "I would be worried about someone losing control and hitting a house."

Texas seaplane pilots say their hobby is safe.

Amarillo resident Ron Fernuik, a member of the Seaplane Pilots Association, said pilots must undergo additional training and certification before being allowed to fly aquatic aircraft. He also said that pilots conduct flyovers to look for potential obstacles and that the planes are more maneuverable than boats in avoiding collisions.

"Responsible seaplane pilots are not going to be hazards," Fernuik said. "Unfortunately, the public doesn't know what to expect. I'm going to say there is a lot of seaplane prejudice."

McKinney resident Herb Hagler said that he landed his seaplane on Lake Arlington before, as recently as six months ago, and has not had a problem with boaters. Usually, people come up to him and check out his plane, he said.

"It's just a nice lake," Hagler said. "I don't think there's any risk of any kind."


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