Moore: Fighting lawsuit against airport will be expensive

WILLIAMSTOWN – The Wood County Airport Authority discussed on Tuesday what to do about the lawsuit filed against it by Mountaineer Grading.

“The issue now is how do we get an attorney, which may mean refinancing the bond we are working hard to pay off,” said manager Terry Moore. “The airport authority needs to decide what to do.”

The papers were filed in Wood County Circuit Court on Nov. 26 by Mountaineer Grading and claims breach of contract for phases three and four of the airport’s Runway Area Safety Project.

According to the paperwork, Mountaineer Grading said the airport authority failed to provide “a design free of defects” for several projects within the overall safety project.

The suit is asking for $3 million in payment for the breach of contract and $10 million for allegedly destroying the company.

“The airport was just getting better, and now this,” said member and Wood County Commissioner Wayne Dunn.

Moore said the Federal Aviation Administration will not fund an attorney, so the airport authority must decide what to do.

“Do we fight or do we flight and just see what happens?” Moore asked the board. Because the airport has been in a dire financial situation of barely getting by for the past few years, the board cannot afford an attorney outright.

“I don’t know if we should hire an attorney and spend a couple hundred thousand dollars or just see what happens,” Moore added.

Mountaineer Grading cannot take over the airport facility without FAA approval, no matter what outcome the lawsuit has, Moore said.

“It just dances around because we don’t know what they will gain from this (lawsuit) because there is no cash,” he continued. “Because the lawsuit mentions design and it was completed by someone else, I just don’t know what to do with that.”

Earlier in the year, Rifenberg Construction was chosen to complete the creation of a 500-foot safety area on either end of the runway as well as light towers to extend the visual of the runway by 2,400 feet.

The safety project was decreed by the FAA with West Virginia being the first state having completed those at the state’s federally obligated airports.

Mountaineer Grading cut back work several years ago with as few as three workers on site before the company pulled out all together. The airport went into lawyer to lawyer discussions with Mountaineer Grading’s bonding company Travelers Insurance and it was decided the company was in default since they hadn’t been at the site since August 2011.

When the company left, the project was about 95 percent completed with certain navigational aids, including the light towers and electric to run them, not working.

Through the agreement with Travelers Insurance that Mountaineer Grading is liable for the incomplete job, the company agreed to pay a certain amount of money to complete the work.

Moore added that the roughly $13.4 million project is almost completed but some things have changed in the FAA’s technology requirements before it can be finished.

“Our history with the project is not the best and I just don’t know what we should do,” said board president John Pfalzgraf.

Moore added the pilots who use the facility deserve to have the naviational aids offered by the project up and running.

In other business, passenger numbers for December were 640, which sets the best quarter for the airport since Moore became the manager in 2006.

The quarter saw 2,141 passengers with the total for the year expecting to be close to 8,000 after the passengers on charter flights are added.

Airports that have at least 10,000 enplanements per year receive $1 million in federal Airport Improvement Project funds annually, airports with fewer passengers receive $150,000.