Aviation firm eyeing Brunswick base seeks judgment against Oxford County
PARIS — An aircraft painting and refurbishing company negotiating a lease with the redevelopment agency of Brunswick Naval Air Station has asked a court to find that its current landlord, Oxford County, has breached a contract with the business.
Oxford Aviation, which has a facility at the county-owned Oxford County Regional Airport, argues that "there is no dispute that the (county) has failed to keep the property in good repair as required under the parties' lease."
The company sued the county in Oxford County Superior Court in August 2008, charging breach of contract and asking to be indemnified from any claims arising from maintenance-related problems at the facility.
Earlier this year, the county filed a counterclaim alleging that Oxford Aviation has withheld rent payments.
The dispute is one of several issues the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority says it is monitoring while negotiating a lease that could result in creation of the Brunswick Jet Division, an expansion project closely resembling Oxford Aviation's failed 2008 effort at the Sanford Regional Airport.
The collapse of the Sanford deal, as well as Oxford Aviation's history of failing to meet job creation requirements required by terms of public financing, has led to increased scrutiny of the private firm.
In its motion in Oxford County Superior Court, Oxford Aviation said a leaking roof at the facility was first noted in 2005 and became significantly worse in January 2008. The leak led to damage inside the facility, including mold that led to health problems for several employees, the company said.
Oxford Aviation claims the county was slow to repair the problems and, while repair work and mold remediation were scheduled to take place, did not make any provisions to allow business to continue.
In a response filed by attorney Joshua Carver, Oxford County said repairs were made to the roof and interior of the facility between December 2007 and November 2008. Carver said roof repair was delayed at one point in July 2008 because the contractor was waiting for materials to arrive, and the county informed Oxford Aviation of the scheduling changes. The county also included a breach of contract counter-claim against the company, accusing it of failing to pay its $1,800 monthly rent in April and May 2009.
Oxford Aviation's new motion asks the court for summary judgment in the company's favor on its charge of breach of contract against the county. Attorneys Mark Lavoie, Russell Pierce and Aaron Baltes said in the motion that the county is in agreement that under the lease between Oxford County and Oxford Aviation, the county is responsible for the upkeep of the airport buildings. The lease is in effect until 2027.
The attorneys criticized the county repairs as "Band-Aid fixes" and said that more roof leaks occurred in November – after the work had been completed. The motion further stated that the company complained about leaks between 2000 and 2002; that leaking caused the ceiling of an office to collapse in December; that mold issues returned in February 2009; and that it was determined in September 2009 that water damage, mold, and poor air quality remained at the facility.
"Although Oxford (Aviation) appreciates that the county is a government entity and has fiscal challenges in the current economic climate, a financial inability to comply with contractual requirements is not a defense to a breach of contract," the company argued.
In his motion opposing the request for summary judgment, Carver says the county immediately addressed issues with roof leaks that Oxford Aviation brought up between 2000 and 2002. He said the county has done extensive repair and remediation work at the airport buildings at a cost of over $100,000.
"The county's efforts to work with Oxford Aviation to repair the roof and remediate the damages related to water intrusion demonstrates that the county has continuously worked to keep both the exterior of the existing buildings as well as the interior fixtures in good repair and thus that it has not breached the lease," Carver said.
Carver also said that while the company's lawsuit states that renewed roof leaks were noticed in 2005, the issue was not reported to the county until December 2007. Carver argues that the problems at the facility were a result of the failure of the company to inform the county of the leaks until they became more severe.
He said Oxford Aviation has included extensive correspondence between the company and the county over leak issues from 2000 to 2002 and 2008 in the court record, but no correspondence from 2005. Carver argued that the only documentation to substantiate the claim that the company made repeated complaints to the county after noticing leaks in 2005 is an affidavit from Oxford Aviation facility manager Richard Betz.
"While the county continues to work to fix the issues to the satisfaction of Oxford Aviation, because of plaintiff's own breach of lease the repair and remediation have taken longer than otherwise would have been expected," Carver says.
M. Dirk Langeveld is a staff writer for the Lewiston Sun Journal. Forecaster staff writer Steve Mistler also contributed to this report.