Thursday, July 10, 2014

Waterville airport hangar owners file lawsuit against Kings County council

Hangar owners at the Waterville airport will be allowed to stay put until their leases expire.

Although Kings County council has voted to close the airport as of Sept. 30, chief administrative officer Tom MacEwan said the municipality would retain the land the hangars are on. Hangar owners with a lease until 2015 won’t have to move their buildings by the airport closure date.

There are currently 11 hangars on the property.

“They’re fixed-term leases with a clear end date with the provision that the tenant or landlord could give notice in 90 days.” MacEwan said. “We’re not doing that. They (the hangar owners) can stay until the end of their lease.”

However, Dr. Tom Goddard, spokesman for those hangar owners, issued a press release recently stating that if the county wanted to avoid a lawsuit, it would have to change the closure date to September 2015.

“The municipality is breaking the contract it has with the airport co-op and this is not right,” Goddard said, adding that the municipality has refused to discuss the issue with the hangar owners.

Goddard said the hangar owners are in “fundamental disagreement” with the municipality over closing the airport before the management agreement expires. Depending on the interpretation of the leases in question, he said, the management agreement doesn’t expire until the fall of 2015 or early 2016.

He said it seems irresponsible to push forward with the closure date when there is no evidence this date is important to a possible plant expansion by Michelin. It also seems “a significant waste” of county resources and tax money to be drawn into a legal proceeding over this.

Michelin’s position clear: MacEwan

MacEwan said Michelin’s position has always been very clear: in order to compete internally for expansion funds, the necessary land must be available and the airport can’t be operating.

MacEwan said the municipality facilitated meetings between aviation users and 14 Wing Greenwood to try to negotiate a relocation, established a relocation committee with representation from the aviation community and more. MacEwan doesn’t agree that the municipality has been unwilling to discuss a solution.

“Council has acted reasonably to ensure their voice is heard,” MacEwan said.

By suing the municipality, the hangar owners are essentially spending money allocated to the airport relocation, MacEwan added. Council passed a motion that all costs associated with the airport move are to be covered through proceeds from the sale of the current airport land.

MacEwan said it would be helpful if the aviation community were “unified with one voice.” He said the hangar owners do not represent the Waterville Airport Co-Op.

Warden Diana Brothers said the municipality has been working on a plan that would hopefully result in a new location for the airport and an expansion by Michelin. She said council would look at alternate closure dates if there were sound reasoning behind it.

“We’re not closing our door,” Brothers said. “We have no other interest than doing what’s best for the county.”

Rescind the motion: Goddard

Goddard said the hangar owners hope council will rescind its closure motion. He said they support Michelin’s need for land and “have taken every opportunity to meet with and discuss the premature closure date” with the municipality. Goddard said they specifically requested non-binding mediation with the municipality on the issue and the county rejected the request.

The news release states, “Generally our efforts to compromise have been met with rebuke, lack of inclusion at meetings and a paucity of dialogue.”

Brothers doesn’t agree there has been a lack of communication on her part.

“Pointing fingers and making accusations that aren’t correct isn’t the way forward,” Brothers said.

She said one certainty is that if the airport continues operating in its current location, there will be no expansion by Michelin.

About the legal action

Eight hangar owners have filed an application with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to decide on the proper interpretation of the contractual documents between the county and the airport.

Specifically, the group wants clarification on the legally correct expiration dates and the legality of council’s resolution to close the airport.

The application has been filed with the Supreme Court in Halifax. Lawyer Randall Balcome, representing the hangar owners, said a motion for direction hearing will be held in Halifax or by conference call on July 23 at 11 a.m. Deadlines for providing evidence and a hearing date will likely be set then.

The eight applicants include B.W. Investments Ltd.; Robertson Marine Technical Services Ltd., Walter Burke, Edward Rafuse, Squires Square Inc., Robert Bishop, Stephen Horridge and 3081426 Nova Scotia Limited, Goddard’s company.

Goddard said the framework for the hangar owners’ approach is based on several points, including the warden’s lack of communication with the group; council’s and the municipality’s disregard for the current lease agreement between the county and the airport co-op; Michelin Canada allegedly telling all parties that there is no pressing need to close the airport; several councilors feeling the resolution to close was made on poor assumptions; and the municipality’s demonstrated unwillingness to discuss solutions with their group.

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