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IE farm's lawsuits ground hot-air balloons

February 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
For years, Denni Barrett has offered his customers a bird's-eye view of the Coachella Valley in a hot-air balloon. But on Friday, Barrett took flight out of Temecula instead.

He dare not fly out of the Coachella Valley because the owner of an olive farm near Indio is suing him and practically every other balloon company in the area as well.

"It has been a very difficult process," Barrett said. "We are getting beaten up by someone who is very rich and really unreasonable."

The plaintiff in the lawsuit says the balloons are a nuisance. Too low, distracting and dangerous.

"We are flying in the public navigable air space," Barrett said. "We've been investigated by the (Federal Aviation Administration) due to their complaints and the FAA recognized it was without merit."

But the biggest complaint by the farm's owner, JCM Farming Inc., is that they say the balloons interfere with their right to privacy.

"If it is 6:30 in the morning and you want to go out on your patio with a cup of coffee and you've got somebody hovering over you in a balloon taking pictures and saying, 'Hi, nice ranch,' day after day it becomes problematic," said Nancy Conrad, a spokeswoman for JCM Farming.

Conrad says they have taken pictures of the balloons above the farm owner's compound.

"They fly too low over this ranch," Conrad said. "It has become a tourist attraction and it is not something that they asked for, to be peered at over head."

While the lawsuit works its way through the courts, almost every balloon owner has given up. They say it is just too expensive to battle it out.