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Authority will hire attorney to handle leases

August 13, 2013
By LINDA HARRIS - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

WINTERSVILLE - The airport authority has opted to hire an attorney to help it figure out how to proceed with leasing hangar space.

Board members met in open session for two-and-a-half hours Monday before retiring behind closed doors for another 90 minutes to discuss contractual issues involving leases. Upon emerging, members voted to hire a solicitor to review the leases and advise them how to proceed.

"Because of the discussion in executive session, we emerged and decided to get a solicitor to give us a legal opinion on contractual issues," airport authority President Cathy Cucarese said. "There are issues we need to have looked at because of those leases."

Article Photos

DISCUSS HANGAR PROPOSAL — Jefferson Airport Authority President Cathy Cucarese listened Monday night as board member Geary Bates discussed his proposal for using hangar space to store campers. - Linda Harris

Gary Folden, secretary, said there were "some issues with a current occupant regarding whether there is a current lease on the building. From that comes the legal question."

Both declined to offer additional details, but the discussion precipitating the closed-door session began in the public meeting when board member Geary Bates passed out a diagram he'd prepared illustrating his proposal to shuffle hangar occupants so that the two outer bays on Hangar B could be used to store campers.

Bates told the board he'd figured they could fit around 28 campers in the space and charge the owners a minimum of $100 a month.

The Federal Aviation Administration, however, requires airports benefiting from federal funding to accommodate the needs of aviation users first; storing campers is a non-aviation use. Maintaining a high aviation usage is critical to qualifying for federal funding for upgrades, such as an Automated Weather Observation System.

B1 is currently housing an Aerostar jet, a new tenant. B2 also is being rented for aviation purposes, but B3 is being used for storage.

Hangar A currently is being used for aviation purposes, though the status of the lease is in question, while Hangar C is used by STAT MedEvac for fleet maintenance and shelters transient helicopters as needed in bad weather.

This week, in addition to picking up the Aerostar jet, another current tenant interested in acquiring a third plane was at the meeting to inquire about the availability of a bigger hangar space.

During the public meeting, Bates also had suggested revisiting the fees STAT MedEvac pays for using Hangar C. The air ambulance currently pays $1,300 per month in rent and another $110 monthly in hangar fees for its everyday spaces, plus $25 per day when it needs Hangar C for maintenance or as a storm shelter.

Bates suggested it's costing the authority more to heat and provide electricity to Hangar C than they are recouping in occasional user fees. "The airpark shouldn't be losing money on this deal," he said, suggesting they approach STAT MedEvac about a service contract which would guarantee them first priority with Hangar C while at the same time covering the airpark's costs.

"It's no good the way it is," added Bates, who also criticized dirty conditions inside the work area as well as other hangar spaces throughout the airpark.

Airport Manager Jason Whanger was asked to provide the board with more information about leases and fee structures.

The airport authority, meanwhile, will advise Jefferson County commissioners by letter of pending enforcement action stemming from the removal of underground storage tanks 16 years ago.

The tanks were removed in 1997, but Bates said the contractor never submitted required documentation involving the removal process.

"That's why we're in violation," Folden said.

Bates said they'd been warned of non-compliance in the past and passed the information on to the prosecutor's office; this time, they're planning to suggest commissioners pursue legal avenues.

"It was a commission contract," Bates said. "It (falls to) them because they were the owners of the land and the tanks."

By law, the state fire marshal can levy a fine of up to $10,000 per day, per violation.

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