As a property owner in Franklin County, I was planning to build a home on a lot I own on the New River. I attended the December meeting in Apalachicola regarding the Air Force's interest in conducting military exercises in the area, known as GRASI. At the time I was undecided on these exercises. Not any more.

An exercise was conducted in January unrelated to the proposed GRASI exercises. An announcement of this was posted on the Franklin County Sheriff’s Facebook page. I do not check this page on a daily basis. After talking to some neighbors, neither do they. I did not see it. I was told it stated an exercise was to be held in Franklin County. No location or time was given. 

After reading various letters in the Times and talking to neighbors, I realized that numerous people were compensated for the exercises. That's fine. But what about compensating the families that were under aircraft that were flying at treetop level, at night, experiencing the noise and vibrations for four hours? What about the property owners whose property is being devalued due to the fact that they now own property that is underneath airspace that hosts military exercises? Do people want to build and expand the county tax base if their property is subject to these exercises? Is the lost tax base worth the compensation that a few receive?

I contacted the FAA regarding the low altitude the aircraft were flying at. I was told that minimum flight altitude was 500 feet above the ground. The FAA contact asked what type of aircraft they were. When I told him multiple helicopters, he said the noise and vibrations must have been intense. Indeed! He also informed me that the FAA only regulates civilian aircraft and they have no jurisdiction over military aircraft. So while the contact did empathize with the situation, the FAA could not process a complaint.

It’s interesting that if these aircraft were civilian, they would be in violation of flight rules. At any rate I got to thinking about why these exercises were being held in the first place. Then I realized the reason - practice. They were held so the participants could gain experience, i.e. skills which are derived from direct participation in these exercises. Which begs the following questions: How much experience do these participants have? How many hours experience do the pilots have flying at treetop level at night? What types of armaments are on these aircraft flying at night, at treetop level, over occupied residential areas? How much fuel do these aircraft carry flying at night, at treetop level, hundreds, thousands of gallons? What effect would a spill have on the river and bay if a crash would occur?

Yes, these participants need the practice, but at night, at treetop level, over occupied residential areas? How would the residents of Apalachicola or St. George Island react to helicopters flying at treetop level at night, with minimum notice?

G. Cerfus

Franklin County