Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

Lack of review of airport projects troubles Hernando commissioner

BROOKSVILLE — A review of how the old Brooksville Air Center property ended up with troublesome drainage and maintenance issues — problems that will cost the county tens of thousands of dollars to repair — has turned up a startling revelation.

When the previous owner developed the site and built the office building and hangar at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport three years ago, it appears that no one signed off on the completed project.

At least one county commissioner is livid about the oversight and worries that other facilities at the airport have also not gotten proper approvals. He is calling for the county to rectify the situation.

"From now on, the county is going to have to look over all of the work done at the airport, and not just the building but the site plan,'' said Commissioner Nick Nicholson, who is an engineer. "This has got to be fixed."

When officials with the county's building department pulled the file on the property at the request of County Administrator Len Sossamon and Nicholson last week, the record reflected that final certificates of occupancy were never signed by the county's building official, although he did sign a temporary certificate of occupancy on one of the two buildings.

The paperwork also shows no sign that county engineers ever inspected the site. In addition, there is no indication that anyone addressed drainage flaws that were apparent during construction or built drainage retention ponds depicted on the plans.

Even post-construction drawings signed and sealed by engineer Cliff Manuel and housed at the Southwest Florida Water Management District show ponds that are not built on the site.

In 2011, a full year after the drawings were submitted, Swiftmud signed off on the plans but noted that no site visit was conducted.

In a memo that Clay Black, the county's storm water engineer, wrote to county officials on Tuesday, he explained that the drainage plan was changed, but he believed at the time it would still work. More drainage would be needed if there were to be additional development on the site, he said.

Black was working on the project when he worked at Swiftmud.

That might work in the county's favor and prevent the need to spend tens of thousands in additional funds to build ponds, Sossamon said. But it still doesn't explain why the plans as approved show ponds that don't exist.

Nicholson was also disturbed by the lack of paperwork showing a clear trail of accountability and the lack of county inspection of the site.

"That's kind of astonishing to me,'' he said.

The accountability questions come at a time when top county officials have been at odds with the chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority, Gary Schraut, over who is in control of the airport.

Schraut recently chaffed at the idea of using airport funds to fix problems at the old Brooksville Air Center so a new tenant, Corporate Jet Solutions, could begin doing business there. Schraut opposed the county's lease with Corporate Jet Solutions, saying proper procedures were not followed.

Late last month, Schraut's comments that the county could pay the bill out of its own coffers set off Sossamon, who blasted Schraut and said that the county, not the Aviation Authority, makes decisions about the airport. Sossamon said it is his fiduciary responsibility to make sure the county's property is in good shape.

Schraut responded with an email to county officials, indicating that Sossamon had been circumventing some airport procedures to swing some airport money in the direction of an old business acquaintance and political supporter.

That email brought another tongue-lashing of Schraut by county Commissioner Diane Rowden, the commission's liaison to the airport. She said Schraut was a bully with self-admitted anger-management issues, and she indicated that she was the one who had made contact with Sossamon's old acquaintance and urged him to consider diverting some business interests to the airport.

The business never came because the principals felt unwelcome at the airport, Rowden reported.

Schraut has declined to comment on the most recent events.

Nicholson said that when his business works on a project, "everything has to have approval (by the county), but there is no evidence that that is happening at the airport.''

He noted that there is nothing the county can do to go back and discipline anyone because all the players have changed.

Nicholson, Sossamon and county staffers plan to meet next week to strengthen the county's paper trail system and add inspections to the requirements.

There is no choice, Nicholson said.

"There is too much liability.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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