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"Citizens request investigation into Colorado airport TTF agreements"



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Citizens request investigation into airport agreements 
By Katharhynn Heidelberg
The Montrose (CO) Daily Press


MONTROSE - Controversy swirling around airport agreements prompted citizen
complaints and demand for a formal investigation Monday.

"Given the amount of smoke emanating from the airport, I think it would
benefit the county to do a full, formal investigation of the operations
there," Bob Connor said, reading from prepared statements at the Montrose
County Commissioners Monday meeting.

"The recent actions by people with business interests at the airport should
have made it abundantly clear that they will not stop until you take
action," he said. 
 
Connor had asked the board Aug. 6 why it was continuing mediation with
JetAway Aviation, a company that operates adjacent to the Montrose Regional
Airport under a through-the-fence agreement. Monday, he also questioned the
operations of Western Skyways, a business that, like JetAway, is a tenant of
One Creative Place, LLC.

JetAway sued the county after it failed to win the fixed-base operator bid
roughly two years ago. Its complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration,
which alleged the county created an unfair monopoly, was dismissed last
year.

JetAway's TTF explicitly prohibits the sale of aircraft fuel, but the county
alleged in 2006 JetAway had pumped fuel.

Court-ordered mediation is ongoing in the local cases, and on Sept. 12
JetAway will be advised on a contempt complaint related to alleged
advertising of fuel sales in violation of a court order.

Western Skyways' owner, Al Head, was one of three men driving so-far failed
recall efforts against Commissioner Bill Patterson over what they said were
airport finance issues. Head was present Monday and at the conclusion of
complaints called for openness and cooperation.

Montrose resident Steven Slade also questioned the county's mediation with
JetAway, saying the company had lost during a fair bidding process and that
businesses were to succeed on their own merits. Slade said he did not see
why the county needed to continue trying to work with JetAway.

Businessman Blake Freeland went a step further and presented the
commissioners with a formal written complaint about through-the-fence
agreements.

"I figured it's time," he said. "The county's through-the-fence agreements
give off-airport businesses an unfair advantage."

Head and JetAway pay the county $250 per year for airport access while
Freeland pays $860 a month for his on-airport business, Cimarron Air, which
directly competes with Western Skyways.

Airport lease rates vary, depending on the extent of airport access and
several other factors. JetAway's registered agent, Stephen Stuhmer,
previously called lease-rate comparisons "apples to oranges" and said he
paid significant property taxes.

Freeland told commissioners that all hangar owners pay property taxes and
since they aren't allowed to own the land, must also pay a lease. "Everyone
pays taxes," he said.

Freeland said it appeared the TTF agreements had been violated.

"Because both off-airport operators are in violation of their agreements
with the county, and the fact that the agreement was poorly written in the
first place, according to the FAA, the county could be in jeopardy of losing
its federal funding," he said, reading from his written complaint.

"Now would be the best time to end all through-the-fence agreements and get
good input before negotiating new ones."

Freeland included in his complaint a 2002 letter from the FAA to former
County Manager Dennis Hunt. In it, the FAA "strongly" recommended against
"any local agreements allowing for the use of the airport by any aviation
activity not located on the airport. The county's obligation to make the
airport available for the use and benefit of the public does not extend to
providing access from adjacent property."

Connor also criticized TFF agreements Monday. "The FAA has made it
abundantly clear that through-the-fence agreements are trouble from start to
finish," he said. "It is apparent to me that we need a verifiable accounting
system on a quarterly basis for the protection of the county and to fulfill
our obligation to all businesses at the airport."

Freeland's complaint pointed to possible violations of Western Skyways'
agreement, including the allegation it wasn't rated to perform line
maintenance under the FAA's general definition but that its agreement with
the county was for "line maintenance."

"I'm not trying to shut down their business," Freeland said, explaining it
was just the TTF components that needed looked at.

"How much have the through-the-fence agreements cost the county so far? How
many (legal) judgments have their been? And has any of it been paid back?
... It looks like a good time to revoke the through-the-fence agreements."

Both Freeland and Connor said they did not blame the current slate of
commissioners for the problems, because the commissioners hadn't been in
office when the original agreements were made.

"There's issues out there and we need to address those issues," County
Attorney Bob Hill said. "It's in the hands of the FAA and we're working with
the FAA. We're also in litigation."

Hill said the county intends to address the issues, though doing so will
take time.

Head said the matter had needed looked at for a long time and that he'd
spoken to Patterson about leveling the playing field.

He asked for a "constructive meeting" in which to air differences, look at
cash flows and "see who's really upside down."

"We don't need further litigation. We need to be all together," Head said.
"I'm ready to open it up. ... I don't want to see the FAA coming down with a
hammer."

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