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Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Airport Operators Sue City
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
The operators of Double Eagle II Airport have gone to court to get the city to comply with terms of its lease, claiming they were the victims of retaliation after they raised concerns about public money and safety issues at the airport.
Bode Aero Services claims the retaliation occurred after it "declined to provide free or discounted air service" to Mayor Martin Chávez for his brief senatorial bid in 2007. The suit doesn't provide any specifics about the claim.
Angry city officials fired back, saying Bode Aero is trying to strong-arm the city into a deal that isn't good for the city or taxpayers. A spokeswoman for the mayor referred calls to Chávez's campaign manager, who could not be reached. Chief Administrative Officer Ed Adams said the lawsuit's claims are incorrect.
"They're trying everything they can to force us into a contract," Adams said this week.
"These guys missed a deadline, so technically we could terminate the agreement," he said. "We tried to good-faith negotiate with them. They decided to sue us and force us through the courts to sign their agreements."
The city has appealed an order in a separate case that required Adams to sign a lease negotiated in January 2008.
Bode Aero filed a separate civil rights and breach of contract action Feb. 9 in state District Court. According to that lawsuit, Bode Aero entered contracts with the city in 1987 and 1990 for ground space and services that have been amended several times over the years.
Bode has bought, built and maintained offices, hangars and fuel storage facilities that cost millions, according to the lawsuit.
The first lease was to expire in 2007, but its terms allowed renewal and extension for up to 20 years, according to the lawsuit. In early August 2007, before the expiration, Bode Aero began raising safety concerns. For instance, Bode Aero says the city Aviation Department approved a charter school inside the airport security area without fencing off the area or discussing it with Bode Aero, according to the lawsuit.
Bode Aero also questioned whether federal grant money was being diverted from its intended purpose.
Bode Aero helped organize the Double Eagle Pilots and Owners Association, which drafted a series of letters to the Federal Aviation Administration about safety and security concerns, including a city proposal to switch primary and secondary runways. Bode Aero contends there is no legitimate safety or operational reason for the change, which they claim is being done to increase the value of land near the airport and promote development interests.
Bode says it agreed in lease negotiations to a fourfold increase in the ground lease, from $6,000 to $24,000 a year, and continues to pay it. But the company contends that the city has not lived up to its promises in the lease agreement and has demanded a 150 percent annual cost-of-living increase or have the lease terminated and lose its property improvements.
Adams said the city only wanted to bring the lease up to the market rate.