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Air show opposition back in formation

Organization: Shows are harmful for veterans with PTSD, involve instruments of war

TRAVERSE CITY — The Blue Angels are on for this year’s National Cherry Festival, but some in the city wish they’d fly away.Northern Michigan Veterans for Peace don’t want the air show at the Cherry Festival, chapter President Tim Keenan said.

His supporters and others opposed to the show have been raising the issue at city commissioner meetings during public comment, as well as holding signs outside the government center steps beforehand.

Keenan said the Blue Angels’ fighter jets are loud enough to break the city’s noise ordinance, scare infants, the elderly and animals, and cause problems for veterans with PTSD. On top of that, they pollute and burn up taxpayer money.

“These are instruments of war and have no place at the Cherry Festival,” he said.

While accidents are a concern as well, the push to keep the Blue Angels out of the Cherry Festival has nothing to do with a recent fatal accident involving a Blue Angels jet and pilot, Keenan said.

He called the crash a tragedy and said that as a combat veteran, he knows what it’s like to lose a brother.

The Blue Angels have been the most popular festival attraction for the past 25 years, festival executive director Trevor Tkach said. A recent survey of attendees confirmed it, and having the ace pilots fly over Traverse City brings positive attention to the region and the cherry industry.

“It celebrates our Independence Day weekend, it’s very patriotic for what it represents,” Tkach said. “These are the top pilots of the U.S., they protect our freedom, and that’s really what we’re celebrating.”

Tkach said he’s heard complaints about the Blue Angels before, but it wasn’t a hot topic in 2014 when organizers were working to book the air show. He’s also heard other complaints about noise in regards to the festival, including those about concerts, midway noise and even cheering crowds.

Members of the Grand Traverse Area Veteran Coalition have voiced their support for the air show as well, Tkach said.

Festival organizers have made a promise to bring the Blue Angels this year, and the plan for now is to move ahead, Tkach said.

But he is listening to the feedback from the community.

“I don’t want people to think this is something we’re ignoring — we are listening,” he said. “But we have to weigh everything out, and we’ve overwhelmingly heard support for the Blue Angels and continuing the type of air show we have.”

Keenan said he and other supporters haven’t approached Cherry Festival organizers yet with their concerns. They handed out flyers last year, and are looking to see how many locals agree with them.

As of Friday, 304 people have signed an online petition seeking to stop the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds from performing at the festival, with some signers from out of the area or out of state.

“I don’t want to do this alone, I don’t want to do something that 99 percent of people are against just because I am for it,” Keenan said. “I can just leave town, but if there’s a whole bunch of people who feel the same way I do, I would like to move forward.”

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