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PI board being sued for airport decision

ROGERS CITY — An Oakland County man is suing the Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners for allowing the Leo E. Goetz Airport in Onaway to fall into disrepair, and ultimately close the airport, while his lease with the county remains in effect.

Leaseholder Anthony Wyatt is asking the county board of commissioners to pay more than $25,000 for breaching the contract that was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, according to documents filed with the 53rd Judicial Court late last month by Attorney Jay Schwartz, of Schwartz Law Firm P.C. in Farmington Hills.

Calls to Schwartz were not returned by press time.

The lawsuit claims the county leased a portion of the airport to Wyatt so he could own a hangar on the property to store his plane when he commuted to Presque Isle County from Oakland County.

“Beginning in August 2015 and continuing through the present, Defendant, Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners, discontinued upkeep at the airport, restricted Anthony Wyatt’s access to the leased premises, disallowed his use of the airport and intentionally and unlawfully interfered with his leasehold interest,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit cites the “takings clause” in the 5th Amendment of the State Constitution, which prohibits taking private property for public use without just compensation, as the basis for the suit.

The lawsuit goes on to state that Wyatt “had to store his plane elsewhere, and use other airstrips and will continue to have to do so through Dec. 31, 2020, which caused and will cause additional damages.”

The lease between Wyatt and the county stipulated he pay an annual rate of $151 to the office of the Presque Isle County Airports and keep an insurance policy on the hangar for no less than $30,000 in coverage for property damage and public liability.

Wyatt is one of five individuals to have leases with the county for hangars at the airport. The board of commissioners agreed to terminate the leases with four of the leaseholders, however, Wyatt’s lease wasn’t terminated.

The Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners unanimously decided to close the airport in February because of the costs associated with maintaining it and the runway was officially decommissioned in March.

The commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday to hire their attorney Joe Kwiatkowski to represent them as special council in the case, following a discussion that occurred behind closed doors.

Kwiatkowski said he “believes it’s a frivolous lawsuit.” The county has 21 days to respond to the lawsuit, although Kwiatkowski did not know an exact date of when he would file that response on behalf of the board. He said it’s possible an extension could be granted.

Additionally, Kwiatkowski confirmed the county still owns the airport but would not comment on what it meant for the county in regards to its request for proposal from PIE&G.

In June, PIE&G submitted a request for proposal to the county, asking the board of commissioners to give the utility company the property for free so it could build a new $15 million to $20 million headquarters and service center there. The project came with a number of conditions, including a condition that the transfer of property take place by Aug. 1.

The board decided to ask for request for proposals in April instead of having the property appraised. The proposal from PIE&G was the only proposal the county received.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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