Balloonists Fight Olive Farm Suits

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There's an undeniably California flair to a strange dispute that has pitted (sorry) an olive farmer against hot air balloonists in the state's Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs. And now the local polo club is involved. The Eldorado Polo Club is hosting a fundraiser on Feb. 27 to help pay the incidental expenses of 15 balloonists and one pest control applicator facing lawsuits from JCM Farming. A local law firm has already volunteered to represent the pilots, so the proceeds from the brunch, raffles, barbecue and, of course, tethered balloon rides will go to cover other unspecified expenses related to the litigation, according to The Desert Sun.

Last year, the olive company, which has 80 acres of olive groves surrounding a private compound, asked the FAA to do something about what it claimed were low-flying balloons (and a cropduster) over its property. The FAA didn't find any violations. The farm then filed the lawsuits against the balloonists, the FAA and the Department of Agriculture and so far it's had the desired effect. Pilots are avoiding that area. The subtext of much of the local coverage generated by the situation is the suggestion that the ranchers are doing something behind the 20-foot-high walls they don't want balloonists (and cropdusters) to see. Apparently it's not a fear of things falling from the sky that is motivating the olive company owners. They've applied to build a helipad in their compound.