Questions precede Brunswick base agency vote on Oxford Aviation proposal
BATH — Over the last 20 years, Oxford Aviation's pursuit of growth and public funding has benefited from the private company's political ties in Augusta.
But with a vote on the company's bid to expand at Brunswick Naval Air Station expected in about a month, it remains to be seen if those alliances are strong enough to carry its latest plans to fruition.
The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the organization implementing the BNAS reuse plan, is considering a lease agreement with Oxford Aviation. It is also weighing the purchase of an $800,000 paint booth to accommodate the company's plans to paint airliner-sized aircraft.
MRRA's directors have not publicly stated their willingness to support the lease agreement. But, on Tuesday, during the board's monthly meeting at Bath City Hall, at least one member questioned claims by the Oxford County-based business' high-profile spokesman, attorney F. Lee Bailey, that the company's move to Brunswick would lead to contracts with aviation industry titans.
Bailey told MRRA board members that Oxford Aviation's reputation for quality work had carried it through a "bleak time" in business aviation. He added that the company has plans to add more jobs at its headquarters at Oxford County Regional Airport. Bailey said the Brunswick expansion would "hopefully create jobs over a short period of time" and allow Oxford Aviation to forge deals with aircraft manufacturers.
During a MRRA meeting in April, Bailey claimed Oxford Aviation was in discussions with Airbus, the French aircraft manufacturer that develops and builds jets seating 100 to 525 passengers.
Bailey on Tuesday said such deals are imminent once Oxford finds a place to land "something bigger than a Cessna Caravan," echoing arguments the company used in its unsuccessful attempts to have the runway at the Oxford County airport lengthened, and later, to expand its operations to Sanford Regional Airport.
MRRA board member Adam Cote, a Sanford native, on Tuesday asked Bailey to clarify his remarks.
"Do you have contracts (with manufacturers), or do you expect to have contracts?" Cote asked.
Bailey responded that Oxford Aviation's goal was to present MRRA with proof of such deals, but he said the company couldn't solidify refurbishing contracts with aviation companies without first signing a lease agreement with MRRA.
Reached Wednesday, Cote said he asked Bailey to clarify his comments because he wanted to be sure Oxford Aviation distinguishes between its "actual plans and (its) expectations."
"I wanted (Bailey) to clarify which it was, and he did," Cote said.
It's unclear if MRRA's board will endorse the deal. Members contacted for this story refused to speak on the record about the lease agreement, or the likelihood that the organization will add to the company's history of securing public funding.
That history has been scrutinized ever since MRRA signed a memorandum of understanding with Oxford Aviation a year ago, and most recently, following a report highlighting the company's failed attempt to create the Sanford Jet Division, its political connections and inability to follow through on job creation requirements in exchange for state or federal grants. The report also raised questions about state politicians using Oxford Aviation's job promises to champion economic development achievements.
Meanwhile, the company's planned Brunswick Jet Division has been shepherded by state Department of Economic and Community Development, specifically DECD Commissioner John Richardson, a potential gubernatorial candidate.
Richardson, who has not returned phone calls seeking comment about Oxford Aviation, on Tuesday appeared anxious for MRRA to vote on the lease agreement.
Following the brief exchange between Cote and Bailey, Richardson asked MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque if the contract between MRRA and Oxford Aviation was signed. Levesque told Richardson that the MRRA board needed to ratify the agreement.
"When can we expect to ratify the (contract)?" Richardson asked. "I feel like we've had this in front of us for quite some time."
Levesque explained that the contract is being reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Does the FAA need to approve the contract?" Richardson asked.
Levesque said the agency did, adding that the MRRA board would likely vote on the lease agreement at its Oct. 20 meeting.