Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pease Development Authority rejects lease proposal for former Pan Am hangar

PORTSMOUTH - The Pease Development Authority rejected a request from a North Carolina company to sign a lease on the old Pan American Airlines hangar.

Royal Technical Group, Inc. out of Burlington, N.C. wanted to lease the hangar in order to open an airplane repair station at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, according to David Mullen, the chief executive officer of the Pease Development Authority.

The company's president, Markus Ebert, had told PDA officials the company planned to employ anywhere between 250 to 500 employees at Hangar 227 with the potential "of investing up to $10 million in the facility," Mullen said.

Asked if he thought the company's claims were accurate, Mullen said, "Their projections are based on contracts he doesn't have in hand."

"Forecasts aren't always accurate," he said.

Ebert could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The majority of the board, except for Board Chairman George Bald, voted against signing the lease because of ongoing concerns about environmental issues at the hangar, which is about two acres in size, according to Mullen.

Their vote came even though John Formella, Gov. Chris Sununu's legal counsel, told board members he thought there was no reason for them not to sign the lease.

If the PDA board had agreed to let Royal Technical Group, Inc. move into the hangar while the Air Force was still studying the environmental dangers there, "our indemnification with the Air Force could be considered questioned or even lost," Mullen said.

Environmental concerns focused on Trichloroethylene or TCE, a solvent that was used in the hangar in the 1950s for cleaning engines and degreasing parts, Mullen said.

"If the Air Force decided we needed to clean it up instead of them, it could cost us millions," Mullen said Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency on its website warns about the dangers of being exposed to TCE.

"Exposure to TCE raises a number of health effects concerns, including for effects in the developing fetus from both acute and chronic exposure. TCE is carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure. Single (acute) or short-term exposure can potentially affect the developing fetus," according to the EPA website. "High acute concentrations of TCE vapors can irritate the respiratory system and skin and induce central nervous system effects such as light-headedness, drowsiness, and headaches. Repeated (chronic) or prolonged exposure to TCE has been associated with effects in the liver, kidneys, immune system and central nervous system."

Board Director Peter Loughlin, an attorney, repeatedly referred to letter written by the PDA's environmental counsel, Barry Steinberg, who advised the board not to sign the lease.

Loughlin noted that Steinberg warned the PDA board 10 times "that we shouldn't be doing this,"

"We shouldn't be doing anything on this hangar until this issue is resolved. It's not a wishy-washy lawyer letter," Loughlin said during last week's vote on the issue. "This is not wise, it's not prudent, you're putting yourself at risk, you're putting the finances of the Pease Development Authority at risk."

Formella, Sununu's legal counsel, told board members he believes the environmental issues in the hangar "can be managed."

But he acknowledged that "it would be inaccurate to say there's no risk."

He noted too that the governor had also read Steinberg's letter and despite that came away thinking "the risks can be managed."

Ebert, who attended last Thursday's board meeting, bluntly told board members that if the company didn't "get approval and a signed lease today or in the next few days, we won't be coming to New Hampshire."

He stated the company had invested about $500,0000 trying to make the deal happen.

"It's time for us to fish or cut bait," Ebert said and added that they have already begun discussions with other facilities.

Mullen said the Air Force - which is doing a pilot study on the environmental impact to the hangar that's set to be finished in August - is "concerned about vapors of this toxic chemical coming up through the floor and causing the air quality to degrade."

Pan Am used the hangar for a number of years and did not report any health issues related to its use, Mullen said.

But TCE is a contaminant of emerging concern that officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and NH Department of Environmental Services - which oversee clean-up at the former Pease Air Force base - only became aware of in the past few years, Mullen said.

"This building has been sitting there for 10 years and noting has been done except for some data collection," Mullen said.

Despite Ebert's comments, Mullen is still hopeful a deal can get done.

"If this were to come to pass that the building was safe and occupiable and he went forward and did what he said he would do, it would be great," Mullen said.


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