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Dispute brings police to airport; meeting is peaceful

 

Posted 11/10/15 (Tue)

Dispute brings police to airport; meeting is peaceful

By Kevin Killough
The Tioga Airport Authority and Wayne Knutson came to an agreement Thursday which will allow the construction of an office building to proceed, assuming Knutson meets certain conditions.
This, despite earlier tensions leading Knutson to ask for police to attend the special meeting.
The issue between Knutson and the airport board also initiated discussions on how permit approval processes will be coordinated between the board and city in the future. 
The dispute began last June when Knutson got what the airport board said is preliminary approval for the office building, which included only the shell of the structure. It did not include any approval of interior elements of the project -- plumbing, electrical and mechanical -- which are required for official airport board approval. 
The purpose of a preliminary decision, the board said, was to allow him to proceed with other permitting processes with the city and FAA so he could be ready to build this season.  
Knutson leases the authority’s land, upon which the building will sit and the lease contains a number of requirements before any building is allowed. 
Misunderstanding
Knutson said he understood the approval to satisfy all requirements from the airport board for construction. He accuses the board of failing to inform him more information was needed.
“You knew that I was doing it, and you got the drawings. What’s the problem?” Knutson said.
Board member Kevin Mell said the board did make this “very” clear. 
“You came in with an idea. You wanted to know if you could go ahead with it. We said, ‘Yeah, as long as we get this other information. The plan, the idea looks sound,’” Mell told Knutson at the meeting.
After the meeting in June, Knutson obtained permits from an engineer, the city, and FAA. He then started building on the belief he had completed all required processes, he said.
At some point in the past couple weeks, Chris Norgaard, board president, became concerned the project was proceeding without satisfying requirements of the airport authority. 
Norgaard said, speaking after the meeting, conversations with Knutson and his brother, Eugene, only further raised his concerns, and he saw workers breaking ground on the lot at the airport. He requested the work stop until the proper approval is received.
Norgaard alleges the request was met with verbal hostility from Eugene Knutson, Wayne’s brother. The relationship between Eugene, former board president, and current board members is overshadowed by Eugene’s 2009 misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of airport funds, a crime for which he served time in federal prison.
Given the tension, Norgaard and Wayne Knutson each separately asked for a police presence at the special meeting. Two officers attended. The conversation was civil on both sides throughout the meeting.
Board member Steve Jensen said the need for standards is especially high now with the airport receiving a lot of state and federal funding for improvements.
Agreement
Without making more of an issue out of who is responsible for the misunderstanding, the board and Knutson discussed means for a resolution. Norgaard said, “We’re not anti-growth. We just want to have things done in a way that everyone is held to the same standards. That’s why we have minimum standards in our leases.”
Jordon Everett, legal counsel for the airport board, advised the board to have on record that any agreements between them  and Knutson did not constitute a waiver of lease requirements.
“There’s a possibility it could be used against you that you’ve allowed certain types of uses or construction without following the proper approval or protocol,” Everett explained. 
Everett also said the authority could be sued by other lessees who are held to the standards, as it would create the appearance of subjective application of the rules. 
Before any other agreements were made, the board voted on the non-waiver issue.
Everett told the board they could vote to stop all construction and back it up with court-ordered injunction. A second option would be to hold Knutson accountable for breaching the lease and start eviction procedures.
These options did not appeal to the board or Knutson.
The board decided to go with a third option, to work with Knutson in “good faith” he will meet the minimum standards of the lease agreement, meet all conditions for proper permitting of the full site plan, and then proceed with the construction. 
Knutson agreed to the option so long as the demands of the board are reasonable.
“If it’s a sensible list, I’d like to cooperate and get along. But it’s got to go both ways,” Knutson said.
The board and Knutson also agreed Knutson may finish concrete work with an engineer’s approval of the plan, which would allow him to continue construction on the structure through winter. 
“It’s up to Wayne to get that completed as soon as possible    . . . I’d like to see a nice building there,” Jensen said, referring to all permitting requirements.
Coordination
A side discussion came up during the meeting about coordination between the city permitting boards and the airport board. The Tioga Planning and Zoning Commission appears to have approved Knutson’s building on the belief Knutson had satisfied all required permitting from the airport board.
City Auditor Abby Salinas suggested the airport board develop a checklist of requirements in cases of preliminary approval, which would accompany permit applications to the city. This would allow the planning commission to have more understanding. Salinas said the president of the airport board could sign off on such a list. 
“We need some form of formal approval,” said City Commissioner Todd Thompson.
Norgaard said preliminary approvals are needed to make the process function. To meet all requirements of the airport authority prior to beginning the city’s process would build so much time into the permitting process projects would take years to get approved. 
“I don’t like all the bureaucracy personally, but there is a set of rules you have to follow,” Norgaard said. 
In the interest of keeping the meeting discussion to Knutson’s project, the board and city representatives agreed to discuss the procedural issues again in the future.