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Brunswick base agency to seek grant from town, but not necessarily for Oxford Aviation

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Brunswick base agency to seek grant from town, but not necessarily for Oxford Aviation

BRUNSWICK — The agency redeveloping Brunswick Naval Air Station plans to pursue funding for an estimated $800,000 paint booth at the base, but it's unclear who will use the asset.

Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, confirmed this week that the agency will seek state and federal funding for the paint booth, a request that will require the Town Council to authorize a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant.

Levesque declined to discuss in detail the status of the agency's lease negotiations with Oxford Aviation. The  authority had hoped the paint booth would accommodate the aircraft refurbishing firm, until Oxford's past performance came under public scrutiny last year.

In October 2008, the MRRA and Oxford signed a memorandum of understanding to negotiate a lease. In September 2009, Levesque told the agency's directors they would be asked to ratify a lease in November.

Since then, several reports about Oxford Aviation's rocky relationship with its landlords in Oxford County and Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg have surfaced, adding to growing concerns that the company may not be the best fit for Brunswick.

Those concerns have been privately shared by some the MRRA's board members and the Town Council. The council's support is crucial to securing the paint booth because only municipalities can apply for CDBG funding.

When pressed this week about the status of the Oxford lease, Levesque gave few details. He said "the ball is in their court."

Neither Jim Horowitz, Oxford Aviation's president, nor F. Lee Bailey, the high-profile attorney who has been representing Oxford, returned calls seeking comment. However, a woman at the company who refused to identify herself said the firm is doing everything it can to complete the lease deal.

"We are waiting on (MRRA)," she said.

Levesque, however, sought to divorce Oxford from MRRA's request for the paint booth, saying the asset would add to the marketability of the base.

"It's going to benefit (MRRA)," Levesque said. "(Aircraft maintenance and overhaul) is one of our target industries, so whether it's Oxford, or another company we're negotiating with, they will all need that type of infrastructure."

"We're really agnostic in respect to what company could end up using it," he added.

It's unclear if that explanation will satisfy town councilors, who next month will be asked to ratify the CDBG request.

Councilor Ben Tucker has said previously that he would not support the grant request if Oxford Aviation is the beneficiary. On Tuesday, Tucker said he would "trust, but verify" any subsequent request.

"I'm going to be very careful about putting the town with any business that the town doesn't have full information on," he said. "MRRA does a good job, but I'm not going to vote for a CDBG solely because MRRA asks me to."

MRRA Chairman Art Mayo said Tuesday that he and Levesque would begin reaching out to councilors to garner support.

Council Chairwoman Joanne King said Tuesday that she has not spoken with Mayo or Levesque, who offered few details about the lease negotiations.

Levesque said only that MRRA members had requested additional information – presumably financial data – and that Oxford had submitted it.

He also declined to describe the abandonment terms of the agreement that compels the two sides to continue negotiating.

"The negotiations are over when one or both parties says enough," he said.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net