More than 80 Western Skyways employees squeezed into the county commissioners’ meeting room and at least a dozen testified during the public comment part of the hearing. Three hours later, the commissioners voted unanimously to revoke JetAway’s through-the-fence agreement with the county until Dec. 19.
Both Western Skyways and Heliquest rent property along with JetAway at One Creative Place, located adjacent to the airport. One Creative Place is owned by Paul Girdner of Boise, Idaho, JetAway’s financial backer.
County Manager Joe Kerby assured Western Skyways employees that county staff will work out access to airport property for them and Heliquest employees.
“How much more patience can we expect to have with JetAway?” County Commissioner Allan Belt asked. “We’ve been in court almost three years, my whole term, and they have refused to comply (with court orders). This is long overdue – to shut off access for JetAway.”
Belt said last week’s hearing was forced because Montrose District Court Judge James Schum issued a new restraining order violation against JetAway last week for illegally selling jet fuel, and told the county to make a move. Schum, who was present at the hearing, found JetAway was continuing to violate the rules of its 2001 lease agreement with the county.
The county’s conflict with JetAway began in late 2005 when the county got out of private jet services and let the bid for fixed-base operator services to Black Canyon Jet Center. JetAway has been filing lawsuits ever since.
The temporary revocation of JetAway’s lease allows them to reapply for through-the-fence privileges if they meet certain conditions after the revocation is up.
As discussion mired down in the details of access to the airport by other tenants, Belt said, “Let’s vote. We’re losing control.”
When Kerby suggested a vote could be taken at a later date, Belt said no.
“That’s a bad idea,” he said. “The motion carries.”
The motion as passed includes a requirement that JetAway provide certain employees with two-way radios, observe parking regulations and refrain from selling jet fuel. The company would also have to make lease payments similar to other airport operators. JetAway, located on private property, has been paying only about $250 per year while Black Canyon Jet Center, on airport property, is paying about $75,000 per year.
“JetAway wants to operate at the airport and do it without paying their fair share,” Commissioner Bill Patterson said after the meeting. “They don’t want to pay but we want to make sure the airport pays for itself.”
The airport would have been in the black last year if not for hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on JetAway court costs, Patterson said.
Belt, also speaking after the meeting, said the issue with JetAway versus the county had dragged on long enough.
“There reaches a point when everybody gets totally fed up with being jacked around, but we didn’t want to punish other people who are tenants,” he said.
Belt said he expects JetAway to comply but Patterson said he had his doubts that JetAway owner Steve Stuhmer would follow the rules.
“He’s lied in the past, so why should he tell the truth in the future?” he said.
After the commissioners voted, employees of Western Skyways stood talking in small groups on the lawn in front of county headquarters on Townsend Avenue.
David McCarthy, who works for Western Skyways full-time and part-time for JetAway on weekends, said he felt the commissioners acted emotionally. He said he is one of four JetAway employees while Western Skyways employs 89 people.
“Allan Belt’s almost emotional outbursts throughout shows they were clearly acting emotionally,” he said.
Another Western Skyways employee, who didn’t want her name used, said she resented attacks on JetAway’s owner.
“They made Steve Stuhmer look like a bad guy, but he’s a nice guy,” she said.