Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando commissioner's desire for full airing of airport issues is shot down

BROOKSVILLE — After all the controversy, questions and confusion over recent developments at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden had sought a full airing of the issues during Tuesday's commission meeting.

But a majority of commissioners shut her down, taking the discussion off the meeting agenda and relegating her comments to time reserved at the end of the meeting for individual commissioners.

Rowden's concerns were one of several airport-related topics that the commission heard Tuesday.

During her allotted time, Rowden questioned why people were making "arm-twisting calls'' to commissioners to quash her questions about airport procedures.

"I don't understand the paranoia,'' she said. "Where there is smoke there is usually fire.''

With airport manager Don Silvernell retiring at the end of this week and his replacement, Kevin Daugherty, starting Aug. 5, Rowden said now would be the perfect time to review policies and procedures at the airport.

In recent months, several issues at the airport have generated public debate: a change of name that landed the county in federal court, an application to test unmanned drones at the airport and, most recently, the lease of the old Brooksville Air Center property.

Rowden suggested that maybe, like last year's troubles at Animal Services, operations at the airport needed a thorough examination.

"You stepped back, you had a review of what was going on, and it was successful,'' she said.

Questions have been raised about whether the Aviation Authority, which makes recommendations to the commission regarding the airport, has put up roadblocks for the company seeking the property lease, Corporate Jet Solutions, and Rowden said it needs to be made clear "who works for who.''

Commissioner Wayne Dukes called Rowden "unprofessional" for suggesting that her fellow commissioners might have done the bidding for some influential people in the county.

"I resent that. I really resent that,'' he said.

Rowden's request for a workshop on airport issues was turned down by commission Chairman Dave Russell. He agreed there has been paranoia "coming from all different directions,'' but mostly from frequent airport critics, he said.

Russell defended the Aviation Authority, saying that it was following rules it had written years ago, and among its charges was doing due diligence and vetting companies seeking airport leases.

In the case of the lease agreement for the former air center site, "it wasn't fast enough for some people,'' Russell said, and some felt pushed around.

But the authority had to protect airport assets, both the million-dollar-plus investment in the property and the significant issue of a second fixed-base operator at the airport, he said.

Russell told Rowden that, as the commission's airport liaison, she should sit down with the new airport manager when he arrives and go through the ordinance that outlines the responsibilities and procedures of the authority and report back to the commission with any recommended changes.

Rowden reluctantly agreed, but not before disputing a comment by Aviation Authority chairman Gary Schraut, who recently called her "anti-business.'' She said she wanted more business at the airport and thought that, if the airport was going to roll out its "7,000-foot welcome mat'' — referring to its long runway — then it should be rolled out for all interested businesses.

In other business, commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to purchase the STARS (Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System) Lite Radar System for the airport control tower. The system will cost the airport $393,375, with the Florida Department of Transportation picking up $300,000 of the cost.

When installed, possibly within six months, the system will allow air traffic controllers at the Hernando airport to see the same radar images as those available at Tampa International Airport.

Silvernell, the airport manager, also responded to a question about progress on securing a U.S. customs site at the airport. He said discussions are still under way, but that there are concerns about how to pay the cost.

After questions were raised about how negotiations are going with Corporate Jet Solutions for the former Brooksville Air Center site, County Administrator Len Sossamon said that company officials are aware of the final paperwork they need to complete their obligations. He said the lease could be signed by Thursday or Friday.

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