Only one side to airport RFP story

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2005

Editor, the News-Herald.

In early 1991, I opened a small aircraft and pilot shop at the Suffolk Municipal Airport with significant encouragement from the airport manager.

At that time there was an active restaurant and maintenance facility located on the field, but little else.

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(Today we have a restaurant, but no maintenance shop.)

The city had recently constructed several private &uot;T-Hangars&uot; to store small private aircraft, however the airport was a sleepy place with little activity.

As the years went by and I worked hard to expand my aviation business, I opened a dialog with the new airport manager and the city in 1997 to enhance my operations which had grown significantly. I agreed to lease about an acre of land and built three commercial buildings at a cost of almost a half a million dollars.

This was done with the clear understanding that the city of Suffolk would allow for the implementation of a reasonable business plan offering aeronautical services to the public. My expectations followed the clear statements expressed in the &uot;Airport Grant Assurances&uot; and compliance documents signed by the FAA and the City of Suffolk; as it applied to the millions of dollars of federal monies given to improve the airport.

FAA Order 5190.6A AIRPORTS COMPLIANCE HANDBOOK in clear language that any reasonable person could understand and take literally; requires the city to allow for the expansion of businesses like mine on reasonable terms.

As such a service provider, I do wish to expand my business at our airport, however due to what I believe is a personal grudge and unjust discrimination by certain city officials, I have been frustrated at every turn.

I would also point out that at present, there are no such services offered other than fuel and the restaurant at our &uot;Executive Airport&uot;.

Under the clear language specified by the FAA we have witnessed just the opposite.

As an example, when the possible expansion of my business was brought forward to the &uot;Airport Commission&uot; and city manager, the commission approved heartily, with the city manager obstructing the effort at every turn.

I provided several possible offers to build new service facilities and was told repeatedly over the last several years by Mr. Nielsen, the Director of Airport Facilities, that they would be approved, soon.

This &uot;bait and switch&uot; scheme was even expanded by a big to do, in changing the name of the airport form the &uot;Suffolk Municipal Airport&uot; to the &uot;Suffolk Executive Airport.&uot; The dialog and flashy statements for such went on for two or three years and lead to the RFP finally offered in late 2004.

As a result, one of my four proposals submitted was accepted by city council in early 2005, only to be frustrated further.

There were also 10 other interested parties to the RFP, however they found the stated process so complex and onerous, that they did not even place a bid.

After a review of the terms and counter offer from the city staff over the next seven months for this simple service/utility building, the process lead nowhere.

The terms demanded by the city included: giving 50 percent of all rents garnered by the tenant to the city, changes to the business plan that were difficult if not impossible to meet, and outrageous demands for performance so outside the industry norm that both the other bidder and I refused to sign, after many long months of going in circles.

Where this situation goes from here I am unsure, but I am looking into all my options.

One option includes building a new commercial heliport on my private property adjacent to the airport on Airport Road.

Yet even there I have encountered unending harassment and improper attention.

In May of this year I applied for and received approval to build a utility building, yet in the middle of pouring the concrete floor I received a stop work order from the city.

After threats of writs and civil action, I received my permits back to complete my utility building.

I can only envision how hard my full commercial plan will be for this property when I apply for such under the present situation.

The real question I would raise is this: Is it proper for city officials to extract retribution against a citizen just because the citizen voices disagreement with the administration of the city?

There are many examples available that &uot;going along&uot; has great benefit and there are obvious prices to pay if you disagree.

Also with so much supposed value in our local &uot;Executive Airport&uot; as described in the recent 2018 Comprehensive Plan review, why have we failed to encourage any business development at all over the last several years?

Remember, there is no flight school, maintenance facility, charter operations, or other business one would expect to see at an &uot;Executive Airport&uot;… If you breakdown here you stay here…

What response could the city manager make to explain this oppressive situation? After suffering under an inappropriate vendetta to squelch my right to speak concerning bad management, he has stated that there is another side to the facts.

Given the past actions of the city manager in his quest to &uot;control the situation,&uot; I can clearly only expect further retribution.

These are the facts as they can be found and I believe a reasonable person would agree that our city manager has overstepped his bounds.

The facts do not have two sides to them and I intend to prove just that…

Roger A. Leonard