THE ORIGINAL PROMISES AND RECOMMENDATION AGAINST APPROVAL
Tribal Air Communications -- known to McNeal as New Tribes -- trains
missionary pilots and airplane mechanics to aid in converting remote people who still follow their original religion.
In 1991, New Tribes asked permission
from the County to operate the old McNeal airport, little-used since World War II,
as a training facility for New Tribes pilots.
Some McNeal residents, especially
Tom and Florence Bohmfalk,
who lived next door to the old airport for many years before
New Tribes came around, were especially concerned about
noise and property devaluation caused by the New Tribes operation.
April 1, 1991, when Forest Estelle of New
Tribes submitted a request for a Special Use permit, he
plan on doing all we can to be good neighbors and adjust our flight
traffic pattern accordingly.... We plan ...
to stay well above our nearest neighbor's property. We plan to
use the standard left hand traffic pattern when landing to the south
and switching to a non-standard right hand pattern when landing to the
north. This will place the flight of aircraft over the east half
of Section 13, and the open land north and south of the airport instead
of flying over the village of McNeal."
On May 7, 1991, Department employee Judy Anderson (who became head of the Department before she retired in 2008) prepared a report to the county Supervisors. Here's various information from the report:
take-offs will be directed towards the east."
"Four single and twin engine small aircraft ... are proposed to
be permanently headquartered on the site.
"Mr. Estelle estimates that these aircraft will each fly about
six (6) flights per day Monday through Friday for a total of about 24
flights. No other aircraft will use the field, except in
emergencies or on occasions when Tribal Air maintains other aircraft
owned and used by the corporation. These planes would be
permanently headquartered elsewhere.
"As depicted on the site plan, the aircraft flights will be
directed away from McNeal townsite, to the north, south and east over
an area that is currently sparsely inhabited. To help minimize
noise on the closest residence, planes will land and take off 1000 feet from
the end of the runway, a total distance of 2000 feet from [the
"[F]lights will take place during
daylight hours only....
the Board of Supervisors
decides to approve this request the following conditions are
"Flights to occur between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 5:00
"Flight patterns to reflect patterns on approved plans,
weather and traffic permitting."
Anderson recommended "DISAPPROVAL of this request" because "it does not appear to be in the
best interest of the County to approve" the airport. Her reasons
included "This airfield appears to alter the rural character
of the area without providing any services to the local community"
and "some aircraft noise, both from and ground in [sic]
the air, will most probably be audible outside of the [Bohmfalk] residence and
within the residence when the windows are open."
Anderson added that "If the Board of Supervisors
decides to approve this request the following conditions are
recommended," including that
"The airfield be ... limited to
four single or twin engine planes permanently headquartered on the
"Flights to occur between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.
"Flight patterns to reflect patterns on approved plans, weather and
THE 1991 HEARING
The BOS considered the matter on May 20, 1991.
Mr. and Mrs. Bohmfalk attended the meeting. Here is a description
of parts of it, from a letter the Bohmfalks wrote for
the September 1992 issue of
"The Sunsiter," a newspaper which then existed in Pearce:
"We had occasion to be involved in two different
'hearings' relating to two totally different subjects; each time we
were treated as if we would have difficult discerning the time of day,
let alone how to enter and exit the 'hearing' room. Quotes
surround the word hearing because the elements of a true hearing were
not present at either time for us....
"Our second experience with the board was in May,
1991, and the Board was composed of the same people as at present, two
of whom now seek re-election. The third, Ann English, seeks the
office of County School Superintendent. This 'hearing' was a
travesty of justice. Ann English is the elected Supervisor from
our district and had once again predetermined the outcome of the
'hearing' before it was held. She held a conversation at her desk
in the hearing room prior to the "hearing" with a member of the
audience whose side she favored, at which time the gentleman told her
he wished to make a statement at the hearing. She carefully
explained what the procedure would be and told him that he had nothing
to worry about; everything would be alright. At this time we
realized our goose was cooked.
"... Our hearing involved a petition for zoning
change and Ms. Anderson was there representing the Board of Zoning
Appeals. She had done extensive research into the issues and had
a lengthy presentation which neither the board members nor those in the
audience who took issue with her presentation appreciated. (The
BZA categorically recommended denial of the zoning change.)
Members of the audience made sarcastic remarks during her
presentation. There was no effort made on the part of Gene
Manring, who was presiding as chairman, to halt the remarks; Board
members also made light of the effort she had put into the preparation
of her presentation....
"When the time for remarks from the public assembled,
a representative for the petitioners made a statement....
"Tom then attempted to present his arguments in
opposition. Ann English was so totally bored she spent her time
reading a magazine and ignored him completely. Unfortunately, he
became so emotionally distraught that he was unable to complete his
statements and we left the room so that he could attempt to compose
himself. During our absence the hearing continued without
interruption, and the petitioners were able to have many of the
stipulations removed that the Zoning Board required should be done IF
the zoning change was granted. By the time we returned to the
hearing room the vote had been taken, which was unanimous against us,
since Ann English had told the other board members she favored the
zoning change and they 'went along with it'. It was also evident
that remarks had been made at our expense which had been found highly
"[W]e feel for the reasons above stated Ann English should not be
nominated for the office of County School Superintendent.... Ann
English has demonstrated a total inability to weigh both sides of an
issue and reach a fair and unbiased decision."
The next day, the Douglas
Daily Dispatch reported that "Anderson said up to 10 flights
a day were planned, but Forest Estelle,
Tribal Air's vice chairman, said there might be as few as one
a day" and "Estelle said 3-4 students a year
would be at the strip [and] Tribal Air would make every effort to avoid
flying over a neighboring home."
The BOS minutes conclude: "Further
discussion transpired regarding the airfield restrictions, number of
flights, the hours and the summary and recommendations listed in [Anderson's report]. A motion was made by
English to approve Docket SU-91-06 subject
to the modified conditions .... The motion was unanimously
The modified conditions included:
-- Department item 1, a limitation to 4 planes, was
changed to 6. Department item 3, requiring flying between 8 am
and 5 pm only,
is not on the list.
-- Department item 4 and modified item 3 both say "Flight
patterns to reflect patterns on approved plans, weather and traffic
permitting." Since the memorandum says "As depicted on the
site plan, the aircraft flights will be directed away from McNeal
townsite, to the north, south and east," it appears that New Tribes got
a permit for flights directed away from McNeal townsite, not toward it.
-- Department item 5, requiring landscaping along the Bohmfalk
property, is not on the New Tribes list.
-- The remaining items are
The county files contain an acceptance, signed by New
Tribes on May 31, 1991, of the conditions imposed by the Board.
This acceptance states in pertinent part: "This approval was made
subject to the approved plans and the following conditions: ...
"3. Flight patterns to reflect patterns on approved plans,
weather and traffic permitting."
FROM APPROVAL TO MID-2007
New Tribes did not always live up to the conditions imposed in 1991. In 1993, there was a complaint about New
Tribes planes flying over the McNeal school. New Tribes stopped
that practice. In 1995, New Tribes attempted to add a fire
station right next to the Bohmfalks' property, but gave up that effort
after intense opposition. From then until 2007, New Tribes
apparently operated with the permit it had been granted.
But in 2007, New Tribes began flying planes directly toward, over,
and around McNeal, sometimes very low, often ten or more times per
hour, five or six hours at a time. One plane would typically make several hours of nonstop takeoffs and landings, 10 to
20 repetitions, perhaps more.
typically started at 7:30 a.m., and afternoon flights often picked
up at 5 p.m. There was no peace and quiet for early breakfasts, nor any
relaxing right after work.
Flights didn't avoid McNeal. Instead of landing from the east, and
turning east after taking off, flights often land from the west
and turn west after takeoff, so that McNeal gets airplane noise from
Helicopter flights began, with their noise extra hard on the Bohmfalks, because the
copter pad was so near their home.
The airport held more than the four planes allowed. It held
four planes under a shed roof out in the open, but an enclosed
three or four more, plus the helicopter.
New Tribes was not being a good neighbor, as promised.
On May 22, 2007, I emailed them a
friendly reminder about their promise, and posted a discussion of the problem on the net. I chose to do that instead of complaining to the Department.
THE INITIAL NEW TRIBES RESPONSE
New Tribes made no response for nine days after May 22.
Then on May 31, New Tribes's Tim Sanford phoned. Our discussion was amicable, and we set up a meeting with New Tribes for June 28, 2007. The meeting lasted 2 1/2 hours.
On my way to the meeting, a New Tribes plane made repeated passes
just north of McNeal. I brought this up first thing at the
meeting, yet New Tribes denied that the flights
existed. Why New Tribes would deny what I had just seen remains a mystery to me.
During the meeting, New Tribes acknowledged that some flights did fly toward, around, and over McNeal. New Tribes argued that the language restricting "Flight patterns to reflect
patterns on approved plans, weather and traffic permitting" allows
variations from approved plans in a breeze as low as 2 miles per
hour. By that argument, New Tribes could fly any patterns it wanted, as long as the air wasn't absolutely still.
That argument would, of course, nullify the conditions that the county
had imposed and New Tribes had appeared to agree to. That
argument makes it hard to believe that New Tribes was acting in
New Tribes also said that some flights use a runway that's not even shown on the map of flight plans approved back in 1991. Here's the map:
New Tribes said it uses an east-west runway, which isn't on the map at all.
I said that the New Tribes permit didn't allow flights from a
runway that the permit didn't cover.
The management said New
Tribes can do anything the permit doesn't forbid. That argument
contradicts the notorious Section 307 of the county zoning code, which
says that whatever isn't specifically permitted, is forbidden.
But New Tribes shows no sign of believing that the laws which
apply to the rest of us, also apply to it.
New Tribes's permit as a "private airport" let it headquarter up to 6
planes. With typically only two or three students, it's not clear
why New Tribes needed more than 6 planes. Nor was New Tribes
a public airport, yet it let a rancher use its hangar to store his
New Tribes's permit allowed 6 flights per day for each of 6 planes -- 36
flights a day. But actually, New Tribes often had "takeoff, land,
and repeat" flights for 5 or 6 hours, about 10 or 12 times per hour --
50 to 72 flights -- then resumed the flights in the afternoon, so New
Tribes often flew double or triple the permitted flights per day.
county permit let New Tribes permanently house one- and two-engine
airplanes; back in 1991, the
applicant named two specific kinds of Cessna airplane. But New
Tribes, by 2007, housed a helicopter. New Tribes actually claimed
that its permit allowed helicopters because, under the permit,
copters were the same as single-engine planes. Not so. Copters are loud, choppy, booming, pounding -- much more
intrusive than airplanes. The New Tribes
copters make life miserable for the Bohmfalks. New Tribes told me during
the meeting that the helicopter should be gone to its country of
destination by Fall, and its pilots would leave before then.
During the meeting, I told New Tribes that based on the meeting, I
would update the website. I offered to post any comments by them.
Before updating the website, I sent New Tribes
a draft of the update, and asked if they had any comments
10, New Tribes answered in an email
guess the bottom line is that we view some of those things
While I appreciate you giving us the opportunity to critique them or
respond back, I don't think that we would desire to do so at this time."
In short -- nothing of substance: no admission of the
facts, just an implication that facts may disappear if looked at
right; and no response to the facts or law, just an implication of more
The next day, I replied "I don't know
that 'we view some of those things differently' is going to be a very
satisfactory response for anybody as to factual matters such as the
conditions placed on the permit -- conditions such as using the runways
on the map submitted to the county, and allowing airplanes but not
helicopters. I'll still wait till Wednesday to let you address any of
the facts upon which I'm relying."
that day, New Tribes responded that their July 10 email was "not
intended for publication but rather an attempt at nicely saying that
while we don't agree with your assertions, neither did I want to get
into a debate regarding the issues nor the fine tuning of those issues.
I didn't want to come across as saying what you should or shouldn't put
in your website and didn't know how to decline the opportunity to give
our views. Sorry about that. Having said that, I do want you to know
that we have been discussing your concerns and considering what we can
If New Tribes didn't want to "get into a debate regarding the issues,"
I don't know why they wanted to meet with me at all. Did they
think they could sweet-talk their permit violations out of existence?
to New Tribes "considering what we can do," all it had to do was
start obeying the law. But New Tribes had a different plan.
AFTER THE JUNE 2007 MEETING
New Tribes flights got better for a few months.
Then they got worse again -- but not as bad as they were before.
In public, New Tribes pilots did
things totally out of place in a populated area. One plane made several dozen deadstick-glide landings that
cleared the utility wires on the south edge of Davis Road by only
15-20'. Flying like that endangers the utilities and the public.
But such public antics were merely a distraction from what New Tribes was
preparing behind the scenes. Despite its sweet talk in our meeting, New
Tribes apparently wasn't concerned
about its neighbors, and even less with me. New Tribes went to
the county and asked to expand its permit
to allow more planes and a helicopter -- in other words, to do part of
what it had been doing for some time, in violation of its permit.
The Planning & Zoning Commission heard New Tribes's application on January 9, 2008.
The Bohmfalks submitted a written statement:
"We are unable to attend this hearing due to physical infirmities....
"It is unlikely that we would have attended the hearing in any event. We do not choose to be publicly humiliated for a second time by NTM. It has been our experience that NTM feels it is bigger and more powerful than mere individuals and can and will push for its goals similar to a bully in a schoolyard. The  hearing ... was a total farce and a waste of time. The outcome had already been decided, as one of your staff members will surely remember. Ms. Judy Anderson ... was subjected to catcalls and sarcastic remarks regarding her presentation by NTM people who were stacked in the audience. There was no attempt on the part of the Board to stop the behavior, which was totally uncalled for and should not have been allowed. It was unthinkable that the Board Chairperson would expect one of its own employees to endure such treatment. She was only doing her job and had done it very well.
"It is our feeling that this present request for modification is only being done to give NTM the appearance of legality. It has had the extra planes and helicopters on its grounds and flying for at least the last six months. They do not restrict their flying patterns to eastward from their runways. They consistently fly westward over McNeal and the Elementary School located there. They take off open throttle to the south on their westernmost runway several times a day in a typical touch and go pattern. sometimes making an incredible roaring noise. It is possible for them to take off without making so much noise; on rare occasions they do it. The helicopters create much more noise by their nature and cause ground reverberation.... When NTM is actively flying planes, the noise is sufficient that we cannot converse with visitors on our back porch.
"... NTM has a history of forgetting its promises and flaunting its ability to do whatever it pleass whenever the mood strikes. We have experienced buzzing of our house on an average of once a week. There always seems to be a hot dog student who gets a high from doing something he/she shouldn't, and after the deed is done what can be said? If we complain, a gopher appears at our door, hat in hand, says we're sorry. This gets old.
"We have a vehement opposition to the possibility of helicopters being allowed at all. Mr. Bohmfalk experienced more than one dangerous situation while serving in Vietnam which involved last minute rescues by helicopter and these situations do not fade easily from memory. Low flying helicopters bring such memories to the forefront once more. In addition they are much more noisy than fixed wing planes, as we have previously noted. We have difficulty understanding the need for them. We have had to tolerate the fixed wings for 16 years. Why do they need more? At the first hearing it was stated that it was primarily a teaching facility; the planes were secondary....
"... Before the first hearing one of NTM's representatives told us of its intent. We stated our opposition at that time and his response was that it didnt matter, it was a done deal and anyway the only others who could complain were in the cemetery, and 'They aren't going to say anything are they?' Everyone connected with this organization has had that attitude from the outset. They will read their audience and will say what that particular group wants to hear...."
I too made a statement opposing a broader permit. My overall basis was that New Tribes habitually violates the promises it made, and the permit it got, back in 1991. There were several specific reasons for my opposition:
"The area around McNeal is mostly residential. Having an airport close to residences is risky. The more planes you add, the more likely an accident could occur which could wipe out a residence or even the school.
"Copters are risky. New Tribes copters are especially risky. On November 23, 2007, a New Tribes pilot in New Guinea crashed and destroyed his copter (he survived fine). He was flying with a fuel drum dangling below the copter from a cable, but he said the crash just happened 'somehow.' If a fully trained New Tribes pilot doesn't understand the risk of a cable swinging, with a heavy weight at its end, near a metal rod protruding from the copter, and unbalancing the copter until it crashes, then why should New Tribes trainees be taught inadequate skills near a residential area?
[A more recent note: There was another New Tribes incident on March 31, 2008. A New Tribes plane crashed in Bolivia, after the plane lost power while landing. With two crashes of trained New Tribes pilots over a four month stretch, New Tribes planes must be especially risky.]
"New Tribes did not adhere to the restrictions set in 1991. New Tribes is supposed to take off and land toward the east, north, and south, not toward McNeal. However, we often see them flying low directly over McNeal, and have heard that they fly over Elfrida.
"The Bohmfalks had to live with airplanes flying over their property for 17 years. They shouldn't have to live with even more noise, especially copters. New Tribes even intends to add jet copters, which are louder than internal combustion machines.
"The other county airports that New Tribes shunned in 1991 are still open and available to them. New Tribes established its airport to train a few pilots to fly into remote areas. They did not apply to be a local airport for commuters or for ranchers to park their airplanes."
For the hearing, New Tribes had 17 letters "for," and 6 letters against. Most of the support was from New Tribes employees and families. No Commissioner mentioned the possibility that people with New Tribes might tend to overlook its permit violations.
A new subject came up at the hearing. I asked about making New Tribes planes' identifying numbers more legible, and New Tribes treated the matter as a joke, by saying that you could tell which planes belonged to New Tribes -- they're the ones without numbers. New Tribes's little joke was enjoyed by al -- and the matter was dropped. So it remains impossible, in practice, to identify a particular New Tribes plane which is flying unsafely or illegally.
New Tribes got its expanded permit.
CONTINUING BAD CONDUCT SINCE GETTING AN EXPANDED PERMIT
Almost immediately, New Tribes began violating its expanded permit. On January 16, 2008, I emailed to Department employee Mike Turisk: "This morning, generally around 8 to 9 am, a New Tribes plane was taking off right towards McNeal, due west from the airport. I believe that violates a condition in the expanded permit. If it does not, please explain to me why it doesn't." Mr. Turisk emailed back: "In order for your complaint to be considered as official, you must fill out a complaint form" found at a specific URL.
It takes a lot to get me to complain to the county about anything. I went to the private meeting in June 2007 precisely in order to avoid getting the county involved. So I never followed up on my January complaint.
On February 6, I emailed New Tribes at 11:38 a.m.: "about 3 minutes ago, a helicopter flew [from the] west and landed at New Tribes. One of yours; and in your opinion, is such a flight allowed by your expanded permit?" After flying from the west directly over Davis Road, the copter dropped out of sight below the trees and appeared to land at New Tribes. New Tribes answered the next day that this was a "gyro-copter owned by a pilot from Bisbee. This was NOT our aircraft nor our pilot.... we will [try] and ask him to avoid flying near McNeal."
New Tribes did not address the issue of the pilot's landing at this private airport, which is not licensed to serve non-New Tribes planes.
On April 8, New Tribes conducted normal operations -- except that April 8 was a Saturday, and New Tribes's permit does not allow Saturday operations.
Such illegal flights have continued on and off. I don't live close enough to the airport to catch them all, nor do I log every one I catch. The Bohmfalks do live close enough to the airport to catch them all, but neither do they log every one they catch. You see, this is not a vendetta against New Tribes, with neighbors logging every minor violation; we complain only when New Tribes's string of violations again becomes insufferable.
On August 4, a New Tribes plane took off, turned west, and flew directly over McNeal. There was no wind to speak of, the sky was clear, and the air was humid and dense -- meaning, there was lots of lift. In other words, no need to fly that pattern.
At 10:53 a.m. on August 4, I emailed New Tribes asking if that pilot had "some strong reason for directly violating the terms of NTM's permit, or was he a renegade who should be denied flying privileges by NTM because he knew the terms & violated them?"
New Tribes did not answer, so on August 6, a couple of days later, I posted the entire note on the internet, and sent copies of the posting to New Tribes and to its national organization. Getting the national organization involved is what preceded New Tribes calling me, back in 2007.
On August 7, the day after my posting, I got a call from New Tribes. They wanted to talk. This was, again, continuing the same course that New Tribes took in 2007. I, not wanting to receive a repeat of the "great greasing of 2007," emailed back that I'd rather have the information by mail.
About noon on August 8, New Tribes answered that "As much as you like to e-mail, I prefer to talk. I find that questions can be answered best that way and that the sterility of the written word can sometimes miscommunicate.... Regarding the flight on Monday ... it was not an NTMA aircraft. We have posted, as per county instructions, several signs that ask pilots to avoid McNeal and we also seek to verbally remind anyone who would come to visit our facilities. I will be glad to personally remind the pilot of that if and when I see him again."
Just shy of 3 hours later, I emailed back "... I feel just as strongly in favor of email over an oral conversation. This really isn't a social matter, & what you call 'the sterility of the written word' is my goal here. I have no reason to contest that you are telling your pilots not to do what this guy did; but since you've already warned him, & he did it anyway, I don't think that another oral reminder 'if and when' you see him again is good enough. I'd like his name and the plane's registration #, so that I can take the matter to the FAA. I don't really think it's appropriate for you to shield this pilot from the consequences of his violating the ordinance. So, if you would, please, send me his name and the plane #, & I'll take it from there...."
About 11 a.m. on August 12, New Tribes emailed back "I did get to talk to the individual about what happened. He felt bad about that and said that he remembered but by then it was too late. So at least he is trying to comply. Mike, you mention wanting his information so that you can handle it yourself. If I am understanding you correctly, it might be good for you to know that everything that he did was legal in the eyes of the FAA. When takeoffs and landings bring a plane over a town or house, it is allowed to go below the normal altitude restrictions. So the FAA would view this complaint as a frivolous one. The restriction is something that NTMA has agreed to with the county and agreed to ask others to do the same. We have done so and will continue to do so. The pilot could actually complain to the FAA that you are harassing him since he is legal. So this is just for your consideration as to what you want to do."
The reader will note that this incident was the second time in 2008 that New Tribes was caught letting its airport be used as a public airport, instead of only for teaching purposes. Each time, New Tribes shielded the individual involved. And this time, in August, New Tribes appeared to be threatening me with dire legal consequences if I followed up a complaint, and let the FAA do its job.
My answer, emailed at 5:04 p.m. on August 12, was "Thanks for the input .... However, I reckon I can handle my own legal risks. If this pilot wants to argue that it's frivolous for me to complain about his violating the terms that the airport agreed to, he can. Will you please give me his name, and the plane #, so that I can complain, to the county and/or the FAA, as needed? Since you already have that information, I figure that your emailing it by 5 pm tomorrow, Wednesday, August 13, is appropriate. If you won't, you'll be in a very odd position legally yourself -- holding NTMA above the law, and protecting people who violate the permit that was issued to you. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation."
The "anticipated cooperation" hasn't happened. New Tribes hasn't answered.
For an organization that says it wants to be a good neighbor, New Tribes shows a lot of disregard for its neighbors.
WHAT TO DO NOW?
Evidently New Tribes, despite its honeyed words when pilots are caught violating its permit, is going to shield the pilots from any actual consequences. It's hard to know how to deal with an organization that holds itself above the law.
One idea is publicity. When New Tribes lets pilots act badly, publicize it. New Tribes likes to present itself as an organization concerned with people; that image won't last long if New Tribes is revealed as an organization which pretends concern for the distant people whose lives it disrupts with its 19th-century missionary work, yet treats its real-life neighbors with contempt.
Any more ideas?