Sunday, February 25, 2018
News Roundup

FAA grounds Operation Migration whooping cranes in Alabama

CHASSAHOWITZKA — They've endured snow and frigid weather.

They've made it through high winds and thunderstorms.

But the rare whooping cranes that migrate annually from Wisconsin to Florida have been grounded by an unlikely foe:

The FAA.

The nine birds comprising the so-called Class of 2011 made it as far as Franklin County in northwest Alabama, where they are penned and waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to decide whether the unique wildlife reintroduction program can be exempted from a rule for pilots that went into effect in 2008.

The issue concerns whether Operation Migration's pilots — who have been slipping on crane suits and crawling into ultralights to teach the young birds the migration route from Wisconsin to Florida for 11 years — are flying for hire or for the benefit of a nonprofit organization, said David Sakrison, a director on the board of Operation Migration. The ultralights are licensed as light sport aircraft under rules that took effect in 2008. Federal regulations prohibit craft licensed that way to be flown for hire or for business activities.

With the issue that has arisen, it remains unknown how this year's group will be delivered to wintering grounds at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Panhandle and the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, straddling Hernando and Citrus counties.

In a posting on the Web on Thursday, Sakrison announced the suspension of the migration and noted that "we are working with our … partners to develop a contingency plan for completing the migration without aircraft if necessary.''

The FAA scrutiny came after a former Operation Migration employee filed a complaint. The FAA office in Milwaukee told Operation Migration officials that the migration could go forward. But when a second complaint was filed at the regional level, the agency opened an investigation.

Operation Migration officials have acknowledged that the pilots are paid for a wide range of nonflying activities; they maintain, however, that the pilots fly for the nonprofit organization as unpaid volunteers.

In November, each pilot received a letter of investigation. After speaking with the FAA, Operation Migration officials agreed to cease flying in late December until the issue of a waiver could be settled.

"The FAA is in support of this project and is working hard to resolve the matter in our favor," Sakrison wrote in his posting. "We appreciate their efforts."

Active discussions are ongoing about the waiver, according to Lynn Lunsford, an FAA spokesman.

"Sport pilots are flying for compensation, which is prohibited under the regulations. The pilots have voluntarily grounded themselves," Lunsford said. "The FAA has not suspended Operation Migration. … The pilots themselves have decided to cease flying while the organization waits for an answer to its requested exemption from the regulations."

Sakrison noted that granting the waiver would be based on factors such as safety and the public good. Operation Migration, he wrote, "has never had an aircraft-related accident and its contribution to wildlife conservation is well established."

The experimental eastern whooping crane flock now tops 100 birds, many of which followed the ultralights in their first migration to Florida.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

Comments
Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

LARGO — A 60-year-old man who police said was the driver in a fatal pedestrian hit-and-run on East Bay Drive from three days prior was arrested by Largo Police on Saturday, the department said.Victor Bonavita was arrested on three charges in relation...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

TAMPA — Officials reopened roads near Citrus Park Mall Saturday evening that had been closed in the afternoon for a natural gas leak caused by a car crash, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Fi...
Updated: 11 hours ago

boca ratonState lawmakerencourages Scott to remove sheriffA lawmaker is calling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel from office after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In a letter sent to ...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Two airlinescut ties withNRA aftershootings

The National Rifle Association lashed out at corporations rushing to abandon it on Saturday, as companies from United Airlines to Best Western have cut ties with the gun lobby organization.Without context, twin announcements from Delta and United air...
Updated: 11 hours ago

‘Up to States’ to armteachers, Trump tweets

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appeared Saturday to begin refining his proposals for combatting school violence, tweeting that arming teachers as a deterrent against such often deadly violence — an idea he championed in recent days — is "Up to S...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria "without delay" to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded. U.N. humanitarian ch...
Updated: 12 hours ago

Published: 02/24/18
Call her more than just a survivor

Call her more than just a survivor

TAMPA — On the quiet morning of Oct. 8, 2011, a 30-ton freight truck ran a stop sign in the small town of Clinton, Conn.It ran over Colleen Kelly Alexander, who was riding a bicycle.The truck's front wheels crushed her, then spit her to the bac...
Published: 02/24/18
Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

TAMPA — A male motorcyclist died early Saturday morning on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Tampa Police Department said.About 1:35 a.m., the victim rode his motorcycle west on the Courtney Campbell at high speeds, police said. The motorcycle stru...
Published: 02/24/18
Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

TAMPA — Roughly 20 minutes into Saturday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, reigning champ A.J. Richmond glanced over his left shoulder to former college teammate Jon Mott and flashed a quick hand signal."He was telling me that t...
Published: 02/24/18