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Applebee Aviation helicopter crashes; Buxton firm under BLM scrutiny

COURTESY PHOTO - This Applebee Aviation helicopter crashed Monday in Polk County during a Christmas Tree harvesting operation.Applebee Aviation’s troubles intensified this week as a helicopter from the Buxton-based company crashed Monday — the fifth crash in as many years.

At the same time, the pesticide aerial spraying and agricultural operations company faces scrutiny from the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Monday’s crash happened in Polk County during a Christmas tree harvesting operation, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Witnesses said the helicopter suffered engine failure. The pilot, identified as Blaine Hayes of Applebee Aviation, indicated he was uninjured, refused medical assistance, then left the scene.

“At this point it is unknown why employees of the aviation company left the scene of the accident so quickly after refusing medical assistance,” the sheriff’s office Facebook page said. The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Last week, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Applebee was under investigation by BLM after the business continued commercial spraying while its applicator license was suspended.

Michael Campbell of BLM’s Oregon office confirmed Monday the agency is looking into “the question of additional work done [by Applebee] following the license suspension by the state.

“We’re investigating our relationship with Applebee and the collateral that goes along with that.”

Applebee Aviation has six contracts worth almost $136,000 with BLM this year for pesticide spraying on BLM land. Since 2008, Applebee has had 30 BLM contracts totaling $212,000.

License suspension

On Sept. 25 Applebee Aviation was fined $1,100 by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and $8,850 by the state Occupational Safety and Health Division for safety violations during aerial pesticide applications to forestlands in Douglas County performed in April 2015. DOA suspended the company’s pesticide applicator license at that time.

The DOA then sought and was granted a temporary retraining order against Applebee in Washington County Circuit Court on Oct. 11, after learning that the company applied pesticides to Bureau of Land Management land in Lake County after the Sept. 25 license suspension — and after owner Mike Applebee requested and was denied an exception to the suspension.

According to a declaration from ODA Pesticides Program Manager Dale Mitchell in Washington County Circuit Court, “a representative of BLM orally confirmed to me that Applebee Aviation performed pesticide application activities pursuant to the BLM contract on October 1 and 2, 2015.”

Applebee also sprayed pesticides on Sept. 26 — just a day after the original license suspension — on Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife land near Astoria, Mitchell wrote.

The declaration states that owner Mike Applebee and his employee Warren Howe “appeared unannounced” Sept. 29 at ODA’s office in Salem to discuss the Sept. 25 license suspension order. Mitchell and Michael Odenthal, the department’s lead pesticide program investigator, explained the order to Applebee and Howe.

Mike Applebee then asked “if ODA could make an exception” to the license suspension so that the company could perform a pesticide application to the Lake County land, as required under his BLM contract.

“I informed Applebee that there were no exceptions to the license suspension and under no circumstances was Applebee Aviation permitted to engage in pesticide application until ODA reinstated Applebee Aviation’s pesticide operator’s license,” the declaration said.

History of complaints

Campbell said BLM officials are working with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Applebee Aviation representatives to review the chronology of events.

Bruce Pokarney, spokesman for the ODA said Tuesday that it’s standard procedure for the ODA to notify the state Department of Forestry — but not BLM — when a pesticide applicator license is suspended or a company is fined for violations.

The recent violations are among 15 complaints filed against Applebee Aviation — the most of any licensed pesticide applicator in the state, according to OPB’s story.

Of the 15 complaints on record between 2010 and 2015, DOA investigators found four violations by the company, including faulty, careless and negligent application of pesticides and one in which an inappropriate or useless pesticide was applied, inconsistent with its labeling.

Seven complaints have been filed with ODA against the company in 2015. Two of those are pending. Pokarney said the ODA’s Oct. 11 restraining order and $40,000 fine against Applebee is “going through its normal course.”

He said he expected some action later this week.

Five incidents, including the one this week and one last year in which a pilot died, are on file with the National Transportation Safety Board aviation accident database.

The company is also under investigation by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. That investigation is expected to finish by Nov. 20.

Applebee’s contracts with the Washington Department of Natural resources for spraying on public lands in the Northwest, Pacific Cascade and Olympic districts total nearly $170,000 this year and over $1 million in the last six years combined.


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