Monday, February 01, 2010

Augusta County shuts down Rocket Boys ... 1

Part 1: We have our own October Sky in Augusta County

Remember the movie October Sky that told the true story of Homer Hickam of West Virginia, a coal miner's son who was intrigued by the Soviet Sputnik satellite in the 1950s that streaked across the October sky?

That incident inspired Homer to study rocketry, win a science contest, go away to college, and eventually earn his Ph.D. and become a NASA scientist. And it all began when he and his friends put together and launched model rockets even though some of the town people tried to shut them down.

Just imagine ... in Augusta County there is a new generation of Rocket Boys who could be future NASA scientists, much like Homer.

And in western Augusta County with its large tracts of land, there appears to be the perfect place for a local rocket club to teach science in the wide open spaces, smack in the middle of 500 acres of land, isolated from surrounding properties.

Wrong.

Not in Augusta County. Just like the town went after Homer and his friends, the county has shut down the kids in the local rocketry club. One anonymous complaint was all it took to deny further launchings. The complainer's identity was never revealed but the name has been widely circulated through the western Augusta rural grape vine.

An activity that had been ongoing for 18 months with the landowner's permission was suddenly over. A county that had a supervisor and state delegate promoting "agritourism" seemed to contradict itself by shutting down the rocketry club.

Since the club was first founded in 2005, over 400 area youth launched their first rockets.

In October 2007 VAST co-hosted 250 Boy Scouts as part of their District Camporee in Rockingham County called "October Fly" as part of the 50-year anniversary of the launch of Sputnik.

At the current location, known as Croft Field, there were usually four to eight kids at launches that were held monthly over a Saturday and Sunday with less participation during the winter months and more during the summer. The most fliers they had was the last launch in August of 2009 when 19 showed up.

Usually an average of 15-25 spectators were present. Bad weather sometimes prevented launches on one or both days.

The club has outlined and documented the entire case on the club's website where the following announcement is now posted:
Until Further Notice
VAST was denied a special use permit by the Augusta CountyBoard of Zoning Appeals on September 3rd, 2009. The decison has been appealled to the Circuit Court of Augusta County. VAST is awaiting a hearing date.
And that's where I began my research into a case that was in the local newspapers and specifically brought to my attention by the club's president. A "routine" request for a special use permit ended up not so routine and VAST went to court to appeal the Zoning Board's denial of a group of boys who wanted to fly rockets in Augusta County, Virginia.

Next ... Part 2: Who is VAST?

5 comments:

Joy said...

I simply don't understand the county's rationale for not letting them continue to lauch the rockets. Do they give any kind of reason?

Bob K. said...

Back when the land next to us was undeveloped, my son and I shot off rockets right at home.

It's actually a pretty safe activity. I don't see the problem, especially given the situation these people have.

SWAC Girl said...

Joy, it appears to be a lone anonymous complaint that set off the series of events that led to shutting down the Rocket Boys. More will come out as I continue the series....

SWAC Girl said...

Bob, in years past the home school students were known to use our back yard to launch rockets that were safely retrieved with no complaints from neighbors. And we don't even live on 500 acres of land -- nothing near that.

Valley said...

We unfortunately don't understand it either. We're pretty sure it was based on personal decisions, not political choices dealing with zoning issues and land use laws. I'll be posting more research on our website that will show the BZA's true nature and the fact their decision was arbitrary and capricious. Hurry up Judge!
Chuck Neff - VAST President