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May trial possible in Onaway airport suit

ROGERS CITY — A jury trial could happen in May unless the Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners settles a lawsuit by an Oakland County man who claims the county breached a contract by allowing the Leo E. Goetz Airport to close.

Attorneys were in the 53rd Circuit Court on Wednesday to schedule future proceedings in the case brought by Anthony Wyatt, who is suing the county for more than $25,000 over claims the county violated the terms of his lease for hangar space at the Onaway airport by allowing the property to fall into disrepair and close before his contract expired on Dec. 31, 2020.

In August, the county board voted to give the property to the Presque Isle Electric and Gas Co-op so the nonprofit utility could build a new headquarters there.

Wyatt’s attorney, Brad Martin, of the Petoskey firm Stefan J. Scholl, said basis for the lawsuit is the “takings clause” in the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits governments from taking private property for public use without just compensation.

County attorney Joe Kwiatkowski previously told The News he believes it’s a “frivolous” lawsuit, and he still plans to make that argument at some point during the case.

He said Wyatt’s total airport rent was only $160 a year and that Wyatt was able to remove his hangar.

Judge Erik Stone reviewed the schedule with both parties on Wednesday and laid out his expectations for how the case will move forward.

Stone gave both parties 14 days to amend the pleadings.

Exhibit lists must be submitted by Oct. 25 and discovery responses are due Feb. 21.

Stone gave the attorneys 90 days to complete discovery, which is the formal investigation stage of a lawsuit.

A pretrial and settlement discussion will be held March 18, a final settlement conference will be held on May 7, and a jury trial is scheduled for May 26 to 29.

Stone said he would be willing to listen if both parties believe they can have the trial earlier.

Kwaitkowski said depositions would likely come from both Wyatt and the county’s airport manager, Alan Stiller.

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