Lease concerns aired before airport authority

WINTERSVILLE – A Jefferson County businessman told the airport authority Monday he’s concerned his long-term lease could be voided because he can’t get them to accept the nominal rent he’s supposed to be paying.

Eric Bates, owner of Bates Brothers Amusement and ARM Manufacturing, said his 20-year lease “with infinite renewals” requires him to pay a $1-per-year rental fee. He said he’s tried to pay it in a lump sum but his checks have been returned.

“Why is it so hard to send me a bill for $20, or let me pay $50 or $100 (in advance)?” he asked.

Bates figures he currently owes the authority $12 under the terms of the agreement, which was negotiated about 15 years before the airport authority was actually formed.

“We were the first tenant, this place had nothing when we came on board,” Eric Bates said. “It was a legitimate agreement” endorsed by the county commissioners who were in office at that time. “I’m concerned that (down the road) the board is going to say I defaulted on my lease,” he said.

Authority members, however, said they’re hesitant to intervene because the Federal Aviation Administration is currently reviewing non-aviation leases to ensure they meet a fairness standard. They said they started with “the lowest hanging fruit” in order to learn more about the process.

“We started with the easiest leases so we could learn exactly what they want,” Authority President Cathy Cucarese said.

“I 100 percent support everything you’re doing here,” added member Brandon Reese. “You’ve created jobs, you’ve been the anchor for everything we’ve done here. (What’s complicating the situation) is the FAA’s perspective on a lease from so long ago. … When it comes to the FAA, there are complexities we have to work through.

“I don’t think any of us are in the right spot to tell you” what to do, Reese added, “because we don’t know what FAA is going to say.”

Bates pointed out his lease had been reviewed by the FAA in the past without problem.

Commissioner Tom Gentile, meanwhile, said there’s no question the company “passes the economic development test,” given the magnitude of the investment Bates Brothers has made on site and the 150-plus jobs created there.

“We just need to work through the mechanics of the FAA,” he said, pointing out the FAA also has to sign off on leases with Cross Creek Township, the county’s E-911 center and the animal shelter.

In other business, Dave Boring of Kuester Implements was at the meeting in a consulting role to discuss specifications for snow removal equipment the board plans to buy, suggesting that “you come up with (specifications) so when you (solicit) bids you get something you want and keep all of us on the same page.” He said requiring at least 60 percent of each piece to be certified as being made in the USA could prove problematic for some bidders.

“I don’t even know how to meet that spec,” he said.

Authority members, meanwhile, also voted to continue to delay payments to Michael Baker Jr. Inc. for engineering and ecological assessment services until they make headway with the runway extension and widening.

Board member Geary Bates pointed out they’ve already paid the company about $71,000. “I think we should hold up until we turn some dirt, that’s how I feel,” he said.

The authority is awaiting FAA approvals before awarding bids.