Friday, December 13, 2013

Edgar County (KPRG), Paris, Illinois: Manager at airport is out

EDGAR COUNTY Board members Dan Bruner, left, and Jeff Voigt, right, discuss appointing Dale Barkley as interim manager of the Edgar County Airport following the resignation of Jimmy Wells from the post.

A letter of resignation from Jimmy Wells, Edgar County Airport Manager, was accepted Wednesday morning by the Edgar County Board. 

His resignation was effective immediately upon the board’s acceptance.

In his letter, Wells expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve the airport for 25 years as a member of the advisory board and for the last few years as the part-time manager.

He said it is time for another person to move the airport forward. In particular is an Illinois Department of Transportation Grant for more than $800,000 to expand the airport’s apron plus relocate and increase the size of the fuel depot.

The past year was a tumultuous one for Wells as a public and community dividing effort was made by some on the airport advisory board to eject RSB Aviation from the airport’s main hangar.

Rusty Bogue, owner of RSB, leased the hangar to operate a multifaceted aviation business. Bogue died Aug. 27, 2013, when his plane failed takeoff and crashed in a wooded area near the airport.

Two non-flying planes associated with RSB were destroyed by arson in November.

Well’s resignation prompted a meeting at 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, of the county board’s airport committee.

The committee discussed appointing Dale Barkley as interim manager at the airport. Barkley received his pilot’s license in 1962 and has served on the airport advisory board since 2008.

Karl Farnham Jr. explained Barkley agreed to serve as an interim to give the county an opportunity to search for a long-term replacement.

“He made it clear it is short-term, but I’m not sure how short short-term is,” said Farnham.

He added, “I’ve talked with Dale and Jimmy, and they can work together. Jimmy has pledged his cooperation. I think this will be a smooth transition.”

Jeff Voigt agreed an interim appointment is a reasonable approach at this time.

He said Barkley’s experience gained as the interim will be a valuable asset as the airport committee creates a job description for the new manager.

Voigt expressed confidence in Barkley but also expressed concern lest he become overwhelmed early on in the new duties.

“We need to offer the interim assistance with the FOIAs,” Voigt said, regarding Freedom of Information Act requests. “If he gets buried in FOIAs, he will never get off the ground. We have nothing to hide, but people need to understand the staff shortage and the health, safety and operation are prime concerns of the airport.”

Following the committee meeting, the county board met again and accepted the recommendation to hire Barkley as the interim airport manager.

Farnham said the next part of the process is negotiating time and compensation with Barkley. He did not know Wednesday afternoon when Barkley would begin his new duties.

Edgar County (KPRG), Paris, Illinois: Reward Offered In Airport Arson Case

Thursday, December 12, 2013 5:06 a.m. EST 

 A $10,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in an arson case at the Edgar County Airport.

Authorities believe someone sprayed graffiti on two planes, set them on fire and then took off.

Just last week, the airport manager stepped down, saying at one point, he feared for his safety.

Any information should be directed to Special Agent Derek Weston of the Illinois State Police, telephone (217) 278-5004.


Ira Biffle Airfield (0T3), Marble Hill, Missouri: Pilot, former airport manager say Marble Hill airport unsafe

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- Marble Hill's Ira Biffle Airport is so dangerous that former airport manager Tim Winters told the Marble Hill Board of Aldermen they could be liable for willful negligence if it remains in its current condition.

Winters resigned earlier in the year as unpaid airport manager, but approached the board Monday night as a private pilot and concerned resident. Winters said he moved his airplane to Fredericktown, Mo., because of his concern about the airport's safety and the seeming nonchalance with which city officials treated his concern.

He told the aldermen that until Monday afternoon he thought the city had a choice of fixing or closing it, but learned just hours before the meeting that the city has a contracted obligation to keep the airport maintained until 2024.

In 1974, before Marble Hill and Lutesville merged, the city contracted with the Missouri Department of Transportation to open the airport with the intention of expanding industry. Kenneth Shrum, an attorney for both communities at that time and present at Monday's meeting, said he and a business partner sold the land to the city through a $25,000 bond issue "for about a third of what it was worth." The city operates the airfield in conjunction with MoDOT on a 50-year contract that will expire in 2024.

The airport is closed because of a recent snowstorm. Once the snow melts, Winters said it will remain closed until the defects are corrected. Among the defects are mole and groundhog mounds scattered about the runway, interference from an adjacent farming operation and trespassing.

The mole and groundhog mounds are hazardous to the airfield. "Also consider that the frozen molehills would likely take a nose wheel off an airplane if hit squarely, and since it is a known unaddressed issue, it could be viewed as willful negligence and potentially not be covered by insurance," Winters said, adding the condition was brought to the city's attention more than a month ago and has not been addressed.

Further, Winters said the farming operation that harvested beans in November encroached on the airfield and parked vehicles and equipment in a restricted area. During the harvest, an aircraft attempted to land there but was blocked by the unauthorized vehicles.

Also during the harvest, some taxiway/ramp area delineators were moved or removed. Winters said he has spoken with MoDOT, which indicated "this unauthorized removal/relocation of airport safety delineation markers is actionable under FAA 7460 and punishable by a fine of $1,000 per day until the markers have been returned to their original locations."

Winters said the state wanted to begin action, but he asked MoDOT to allow him to give the city time to correct the situation.

People who visit Crooked Creek to collect reeds for duck blinds have told Winters the farmer had given permission to them to trespass on posted city property, and have been seen driving on the taxiway and runway.

"This is another accident waiting to happen," Winters said.

"I can understand how the lack of airport use can lull the city into a sense of complacency toward airport safety and regulations," Winters said. "Regardless of if one airplane lands there per week or 50 do, the same level of maintenance and control must be sustained to ensure a safe environment for aircraft and operations. One way or the other the city needs to get off the fence. Aviation safety is far too important to be approached with the nonchalant attitude that the city and locals have displayed in recent years."

Mayor Nick Hendricks said he has tried to reach someone at the farm that leases the land from the city but without success. He said the farm's owner may be unaware of possible infractions by his employees. He also said what the city earns from leasing the farmland more than pays for the airport.

Hendricks said he would not like to lose the airport, and he would meet with city attorney Alan Beussink and with MoDOT to try to reach a solution.

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (KCLT), Charlotte, North Carolina: With Charlotte Douglas in limbo, legal bills pile up

As the fight over who will run Charlotte Douglas International Airport drags on, combined legal bills for the city and a new commission are approaching $1 million.

The lawyers’ fees are likely to continue growing, as the nearly year-old conflict shows no signs of resolution. The legal drama over the new American Airlines’ second-busiest hub has taken up much of the past year, dividing state legislators and city leaders and deepening political divisions. 

The city so far owes three outside law firms a little more than $397,000 for their work, city attorney Bob Hagemann told the Observer Thursday. With the firms’ help, Charlotte has successfully stalled a state law passed in July that would shift control of the airport from the city to a new commission.
Robert Stolz, chairman of the Charlotte Airport Commission, declined to say how much the commission has been billed by its lawyers. “We’re finalizing what the previous bills have been, and those will be reported out at the commission next week,” said Stolz. The commission meets Thursday night.

But a person with knowledge of the situation said the commission’s legal bills are similar to the city’s in size.

While Stolz didn’t say exactly how much the commission’s bills are, he did say the legal fight is eating up too much time and money.

“The amount of money being spent on this situation is outrageous,” said Stolz. He said state legislators who supported the airport authority and city leaders who want to keep Charlotte Douglas under city control should work out their issues outside of the courts. 

“I would hope that both sides would lay down their arms and have some thoughtful dialogue,” he said. “What we need is for people to sit in a room and resolve this thing.”

The commission’s bill sets up a potentially awkward situation at Thursday’s meeting. The airport commission is currently blocked by a judge’s ruling from exercising almost all of its powers and doesn’t have any money to spend.

That means the commission will have to discuss whether and how it will pay its lawyers. The commission is represented by former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and Martin Brackett, of Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson.

Vinroot could not be reached Thursday. Former Charlotte aviation director Jerry Orr, who is executive director of the commission, also could not be reached.

Orr retained Vinroot and his firm in July, the same day the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill creating the commission. Orr was removed from his city job – the city said he resigned, while Orr said he was fired – but he was automatically named to head the commission, under the terms of the law. 

Orr is still receiving his $211,000 salary from airport revenues, as he fights for the commission to begin running Charlotte Douglas. But so far, the commission has largely been stymied.

In a series of inconclusive hearings in front of Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin, the judge has declined to lift his injunction against the commission. The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to say whether it will give the commission a certificate needed to run the airport. 

Seven of 13 commissioners were appointed by the Charlotte City Council and the mayor. At their first meeting, some commissioners questioned why the body was meeting when it can’t do much. The group intends at its meeting next week to discuss Orr’s role and whether it’s appropriate to keep paying him, as well as the role of its lawyers.

For now, the airport has two directors: Orr, who can’t exercise his powers, and interim aviation director Brent Cagle, who is running the airport day-to-day. Cagle’s $152,640 salary is also coming from airport revenues. The airport remains a city department, and Cagle reports to City Manager Ron Carlee and the City Council. 

Outside firms, escalating bills

The city’s legal tab has primarily come from two North Carolina-based firms. Brooks Pierce has billed the city for $221,367, while Poyner Spruill has submitted $166,757 in invoices. A Boston-area firm, Anderson & Kreiger, is owed $9,221.

Hagemann said Brooks Pierce brought an experienced trial litigator, Jim Phillips, while Poyner Spruill offered the city a state constitutional expert in Robert Orr, a former N.C. Supreme Court justice. Phillips is a Democrat; Robert Orr, a Republican.

“We did not want to appear partisan, but that is not the main reason (for picking the two firms),” Hagemann said. “Both are high-quality, highly regarded firms.”

Anderson & Kreiger is known for its expertise in issues involving the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.

Poyner Spruill came on board first. It started working with the city July 11, a week before the legislature passed the airport bill. Its lawyers were on hand in a Mecklenburg courtroom when Hagemann successfully asked a judge to block the new law. 

“It turned out to be a whole lot of work in a short period of time,” he said. “We could not have done it all in-house.”

Hagemann said he has handled most of the in-house work himself, making strategy calls and orchestrating work by the outside firms. 

In June, the Charlotte City Council voted to “vigorously resist any outside, unilateral” efforts to transfer Charlotte Douglas from city control to an independent authority.

Opponents of the move to transfer the airport “feel that the whole effort by the legislature was unfair and not needed,” Hagemann said. “We did not ask for this fight. We did not pick this fight.”

The city will face still more court hearings in the case, and potential appeals, but much of the legal research and analysis is already “in the bank,” Hagemann said.

“We will incur significantly more legal fees,” he said. “But I don’t see it doubling or tripling.”