Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

Problems at Hernando airport site anger county administrator

BROOKSVILLE — As he conducted a tour of the former Brooksville Air Center site last week, Bradley Dye pointed to one problem after another.

The vice president of Corporate Jet Solutions, the new tenant at the air center site at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, took note of the gasoline fueling station.

During heavy rains, the containment area around the pump fills with water. No roof over the pump only adds to the problem. Given that anyone fueling their plane could be operating the pump — powered by electricity — while standing in water, Dye expressed concern about liability.

Liability was also on Dye's mind as he stood between the massive doors of his new airplane hangar.

The doors, unfortunately, have a broken safety feature that could result in someone being crushed because the doors can no longer sense whether something is in the way as they are closing.

In another corner of the property, near three massive fuel tanks, another containment area is clearly too small. The surrounding area slopes down into a depression. Should there be a fuel spill, Dye noted, the contamination would drain into the groundwater supply.

From water flowing into his new hangar and office building during heavy rains to a floor in the hangar with structural flaws, Dye's new site has its share of issues.

The conditions are stirring up almost as much controversy as the lease that Dye and his son, Tony, the owner of the Clearwater-based company, had to fight to win from the county. And, once again, the bigger question has become this: Who runs the airport?

Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon told the Times last week that he does not believe the county's airport leadership did due diligence before recommending in April that the County Commission purchase the facility for $1.25 million.

Sossamon said he was surprised by the conditions he has seen there.

Now, to fulfill its lease agreement with Corporate Jet Solutions, the county is facing tens of thousands of dollars in repair work — money that Sossamon says will come out of the airport's coffers.

That plan has Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut fuming. He said the county has no reason to make any improvements at the site.

"The lease we recommended,'' he said, "is an 'as is' lease,'' meaning Corporate Jet Solutions agreed to take the property in its current condition.

"I would be very upset if we're spending $60,000 of airport money,'' he said. "If the administrator and the board of county commissioners want to do this, they can take $60,000 out of the general fund.''

He called the situation "a charade'' and expressed concern that he was learning about the county making plans for repairs without informing him. He said that, while he had heard that the county was putting up gutters on the office building, everything else he learned from a Times reporter.

What he didn't know was that, on the afternoon of July 2, as Corporate Jet Solutions was signing the lease, the Dyes were adding an addendum ensuring that the site would be brought up to snuff before they started paying on the lease.

The addendum included a punch list of repairs, many of them related to the poorly designed drainage on the site. The fix for those problems alone could run as high as $75,000. The flawed floor in the hangar would be a minimum of $20,000, Dye said.

Schraut said the lease he signed didn't include the addendum. He said he didn't agree with it and that the county administration needed to follow proper protocol concerning airport operations, allowing airport management and the Airport Authority to participate in all decision-making.

Sossamon said leasing the property without bringing it up to a standard that would allow a business to open would be "false advertising.'' The county, he noted, ran an ad pitching the site as an aviation facility that could house a fixed-base operator, and that's what Corporate Jet Solutions plans to do, in addition to its airplane maintenance business.

"What I'm doing is executing my fiduciary responsibility to my board of county commissioners, who are not Gary Schraut, and my fiduciary responsibilities to the citizens of this county,'' Sossamon said. "We don't want to be called a freaking slumlord.''

Repairing the flaws, fixing the drainage problems, repairing the floor of the hangar are all part of protecting the county's assets, he said. County commissioners made it clear, he said: "My butt was on the line."

Commissioners Wayne Dukes, Nick Nicholson and Diane Rowden each told the Times that they supported Sossamon in his efforts to fix the problems so that the Dyes could open their business by their target date next month.

Nicholson agreed that someone dropped the ball with the airport.

"This should never have been allowed to happen, and it can never happen again,'' he said.

"This is our building. We bought it with all these problems,'' Rowden said. "These are health, safety and welfare issues.''

Sossamon said that Schraut needs to "get over'' the fact that the Dyes won the lease for the property — a lease that Schraut opposed.

The administrator also noted that Schraut "needs to realize that he is the chairman of an advisory board (to the County Commission).''

Sossamon recalled that 15 months ago, when he took the administrator's job in Hernando, people asked him whether he knew what he was getting into. He told them he did. They warned in particular about operations at the airport.

Also, Schraut, a well-connected Realtor who has been on the aviation board for more than 20 years, was said to have been the person who brought about the termination of the last county administrator, David Hamilton.

Sossamon, who led the construction of the airport when he worked in Concord, N.C., said he has seen that the Hernando airport is Schraut's "playground'' and that he isn't afraid to call him out over the fact that the County Commission has the final say regarding airport issues.

"He needs to put on his big-boy pants and suck it up,'' Sossamon said.

     
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