Airport dispute going to arbitration

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PARIS — A renewed disagreement between Oxford County and a longtime tenant at the county-owned Oxford airport will go before a judge next week.

County Administrator Scott Cole said the matter will be heard in Portland on May 28 as part of an arbitration process. Oxford Aviation, an aircraft painting and refurbishing company serving as the fixed base operator at the Oxford County Regional Airport, has charged the county and county commissioners with breach of settlement agreement and interference with advantageous business relations.

At issue is a $100,000 payment that the county withheld from Oxford Aviation in March. The company sued in 2008 charging that the county had failed to maintain the buildings per a lease allowing the company to use the facility until 2027. The lawsuit stated that the county had not properly responded to problems such as a leaky roof and mold growth.

In January, the parties agreed to settle the matter. The county transferred maintenance responsibilities to Oxford Aviation and agreed to cease collecting rent, including $5,400 in rent payments the company had not made. The county also agreed to give the company $250,000 over the course of the year, with $50,000 paid immediately, to go toward repairs.

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Oxford Aviation briefly laid off 17 people after the county withheld the $100,000 payment scheduled for March, but hired them back in the ensuing weeks. Immediately after the county decision, the company sought to amend its complaint to add the new charges.

In court documents, county attorney Joshua Carver says that the county withheld the payment because Oxford Aviation did not provide assurances that it was repairing problems at the buildings. He also argues that the company cannot claim interference with advantageous business relations unless the county used fraud or intimidation to induce a third party to breach a contract. Carver says the county commissioners are immune from the charge because they were acting in their legislative capacity.

Carver has sought to file a counterclaim to Oxford Aviation’s new complaints if the court allows the matter to proceed. Carver accuses Oxford Aviation of misrepresenting its intentions during settlement negotiations by saying it could begin repairs immediately and implementing only “minor, patchwork fixes” such as the removal of damaged ceiling tiles and Sheetrock. He says the company has defrauded the county by taking settlement money and avoiding rent while having no intention of performing repairs.

Attorneys Mark Lavoie and Russell Pierce Jr. argue that the county meets the standards for interference due to “wrongful conduct or intimidation” and that the commissioners are not immune if they acted in bad faith. They say that Oxford Aviation has been working to fix the buildings’ problems, and that the settlement did not specify when certain maintenance would take place, and that the company needed to wait until freezing temperatures abated before it could begin roof repairs.

“The county’s position is so patently unreasonable in light of the settlement contract that was reached, that a natural inference arises that there is a larger plan, or some other motive, on the commissioners’ part — either individually or collectively — to interfere with Oxford Aviation’s use and enjoyment of the premises,” the attorneys say.

Cole said the judge will determine whether or not the county was justified in withholding the settlement payment.

mlangeveld@sunjournal.com

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