A group of hangar owners taking legal action against the County of Kings over the closure date of the Waterville airport has a new courtroom ally.
Hangar owner spokesman Dr. Tom Goddard said the Waterville Airport Co-operative Limited has decided to join the hangar owners as an applicant in the lawsuit in an attempt to have the terms of their airport management agreement with the county upheld.
Goddard said the legal challenge has always been about the management agreement. If the municipality would agree to honour the terms and postpone the closure date of the airport to the end of the existing contract on Sept. 30, 2015, the legal action would be withdrawn.
Council voted in favour of a strategy on July 29 that includes the relocation of the airport to 14 Wing Greenwood, with any ongoing negotiations into the future of the relocated airport conducted between 14 Wing and the aviation community. The intention is for the relocated airport to be owned and managed by an arm’s-length organization operating as a business.
In order for those negotiations to take place, the closure date of the airport will be extended from Sept. 30 of this year to March 31, 2015, providing that aviation users confirm their agreement in writing prior to Aug. 31.
Goddard said if the airport co-op signs on and agrees, this would essentially void the current management agreement and “we would have no lawsuit.”
He said it “seems very much backward” to ask the airport co-op and the Annapolis Valley Flying Association to agree now, before the viability of the Greenwood option is even investigated.
“Our general thought is that it (the Greenwood option) might work but there are many unknowns that need to be clarified before we are prepared to give up what we have,” Goddard said.
While the hangar owners support a Michelin expansion, they “do not understand the county’s rush to prematurely terminate the management agreement and close the airport,” Goddard said.
Michelin Canada’s Grant Ferguson has told them that the company has no present expansion plans for Waterville, he added.
Goddard said the airport is thriving, with a significant economic footprint in Kings County. They would like to see the municipality sell the airport land to Michelin with a closing date in the future that gives the airport time to transition to a new site.
A group of eight hangar owners filed the initial application with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in Halifax to decide on the proper interpretation of the contractual documents between the County of Kings and the Waterville Airport Co-operative Limited. Specifically, the group wants clarification of the legally correct expiration dates and the legality of council’s resolution to close the airport.
Council passed a motion on July 8 that no councillor shall communicate, directly or indirectly, with any of the adverse parties involved in the legal action surrounding the Sept. 30 closure date in both corporate and personal capacities. All communication must go through the chief administrative officer or municipal solicitors.
Counter proposal made by airport group
If the County of Kings accepts their joint counter proposal, Supreme Court legal action concerning the closure date for the Waterville airport would be withdrawn.
Waterville Airport Co-operative Limited chairman Gordon Squires said Randall Balcome, the lawyer representing the hangar owners and airport co-op, has sent a joint counter proposal to the County of Kings lawyer. Squires describes it as a “constructive and reasonable direct reply” to the municipality’s July 29 decision. They’ve given the municipality until Aug. 22 to accept the offer. If the offer were accepted, the legal action would be withdrawn.
Squires said that the hangar owners group and the airport co-op are not the initiators of any actions; instead, the groups are defending themselves against “unilateral surprise actions” that have violated the contract between the County of Kings and the airport co-op.
Squires said the hangar owners and airport co-op have tried to initiate negotiations with the municipality but the county “has been unwilling to negotiate anything.”
Squires said that, after the hangar owners group initiated its defence, the municipality argued to the judge that the hangar owners did not have legal standing to be heard by the court and that only the airport co-op did.
Squires said this was still to be determined by the court; however, “to simplify, clarify and expedite things for all concerned,” the airport co-op joined the lawsuit to make it clear that it expected the municipality to honour all terms and dates in its contract with the airport co-op.
As a result of council’s decision to halt the work of the Waterville Airport Relocation Project Steering Committee, Squires, as airport co-op chairman, has asked the steering committee’s aviation representative, Paul Easson, to form a small committee known as the Airport Transition Committee.
Easson, as chairman of the committee, will choose a small number of airport co-op members to assist him. The committee will be accountable to the airport co-op board and will report periodically. The three-part mandate will include determining the viability of relocating the airport; finding a presenting a green field option not zoned as farmland and determining and presenting other details that will provide “very long-term certainty for general aviation in the region.”
The joint counter proposal
The following is a joint proposal from the Waterville Airport Co-operative Limited (“WACL”), the Annapolis Valley Flying Association (“AVFA”) and the AVFA task force to the Municipality of the County of Kings (MoK). The “Hangar Owner Group” (Applicant’s in Hfx. No. 428858) is also in agreement with this proposal:
1. A restructured or replacement entity for WACL (the restructured entity) will be the new governing body that will operate and manage a new airport facility/location;
2. A minimum of $1.8 million in infrastructure funding (the estimate sale price to Michelin) will be paid to WACL by MoK now to finance the airport relocation, and more funding will be provided by any amount received by the MOK for the sale of the airport property in excess of $1.8 million;
3. The restructured entity will be the body to organize and negotiate with all relevant parties with respect to a new airport location;
4. The restructured entity will assume responsibility in all expense issues relating to the airport relocation; it will not look after any site remediation at the current Waterville airport site;
5. The restructured entity will investigate the best option for relocation, whether it’s Greenwood or a Greenfield;
6. $32,000 will be granted by MoK to WACL to be used for the engagement of a consultant to create a ten year business plan for the long term planning of the new airport facility;
7. $10,000 will be granted by MoK to WACL to be used for the engagement of a consultant to provide recommendations on the governance model that will be best suited for the long term ownership, management and operation of the new airport facility;
8. The current property on which the respective Hangars Owners have located their hangars will be subdivided and granted to the respective Hangar Owners;
9. The ownership in all airport related equipment and structures located on the Waterville Airport property and owned by the MOK will be transferred to WACL;
10. The MOK will honour all of the terms, including terms with respect to the date on which the MOK may close the Waterville Airport, presently contained in leases/contracts between the MOK and WACL and the respective Hangar Owners;
11. The MoK will grant an extension of the current management agreement it has with the restructured entity to the point in time that a Greenfield or Greenwood general aviation airport is operational.
12. The Hangar Owners will withdraw their present lawsuit with no costs payable to any party.