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A former member of the Tennessee Eagles radio-controlled airplane club convinced Harriman City Council to hold off on renewing the organization’s three-year lease agreement.
The group leases its airstrip on what is called the Harriman industrial property. Terry Webb asked the council to consider leasing the property to him instead.
“I was instrumental in developing that park,” said Webb, a former Tennessee Eagles member who owns a hobby shop in downtown Harriman.
“The intent was to have a public place where people can pursue their radio-control hobby.”
Public access is the crux of Webb’s argument for leasing him the land. He said the club doesn’t provide enough opportunities for public participation and limits its use primarily to Academy of Model Aeronautics-sanctioned pilots.
Webb and Tennessee Eagles President Bob Freels had a heated exchange while presenting their cases to Harriman City Council members earlier this month.
“They should not have unfettered use of the park,” Webb said, explaining that he believes the club should still be allowed to use the park but not on an exclusive basis.
Webb said he believes he can better market the park, with the city and his business reaping the benefits of the 1,000 people he predicted would use it annually.
“The Harriman RC Park has been operated by the Tennessee Eagles RC club for more than 10 years with minimal benefit to the public, the city of Harriman, or Roane County,” Webb said in a declaration to City Council.
“Only 18 people in the whole county are allowed to use the park.”
Freels, however, pointed out his club and its fly-in events have attracted numerous visitors to the area. The events are publicized in major magazines, he said, and the money raised there benefit many community agencies, including the Shriners.
Webb wants to further develop the property with race tracks and crawler courses for radio-controlled cars.
He proposes having the park open for use by Harriman RC Park-affiliated clubs and properly insured individuals and the public, with restrictions.
Under Webb’s proposal, AMA or RC club air shows, car races and events would be approved and scheduled, and no fee would be charged for public use.
The declaration would require the Tennessee Eagles RC Club to maintain AMA insurance on the park, but larger planes that he said develop more energy may only be flown on designated days.
Webb has said most club members use such larger planes.
“Those large scale airplanes are very dangerous,” Webb said.
Freels said the planes he referred to did have what they called a redundant system for safety.
“Mr. Webb sells these airplanes, but he says they are dangerous,” he added.
Freels also said that the club has spent a lot of money on developing the field, including building shelters.
Another club member at a prior council meeting said Webb’s interest in the park is personal and financial. He also accused Webb of once trying to push airstrip users into his shop for their planes and gear.
Webb, who said his store was instrumental in getting the park started, denied that claim.
Club members told council they are more than happy to work with Webb, and there is plenty of space for all of them.
Council member J.D. Sampson previously said he wasn’t for renewing the lease for anyone, noting how the property, which is much larger than the airfield area that is part of it, needs to be marketed.
The 90-plus acre property has river, road and railway access.
“We need to do something with that, and a lease will just delay the industrial board that much further,” Sampson said.
Sampson said he sees both sides and suggested something that would probably not make either side happy: turning over the facility to the city’s park and recreation department.