May 19--BLOOMINGTON -- The Central Illinois Regional Airport admitted in court Friday making a mistake when blocking construction of a private jet hangar and fuel farm but said the infraction shouldn't cost it $6.5 million.
Platinum Aviation is suing the airport for $6.5 million in lost profits -- not the $24 million originally sought -- claiming CIRA actions delayed the opening of the company's aircraft maintenance hangar and fuel farm at the airport from March 2005 to potentially August 2006, or 18 months.
Fearing airport contracts with Platinum jeopardized funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, the airport blockaded construction of the company's hangar last summer.
Platinum also delayed construction while waiting for the airport to submit the proper documentation related to the project to the FAA, attorneys said.
"This is about a municipality strong-arming a small business to get out of a contract," Platinum attorney Michael Scotti told a jury during opening arguments in the case Friday. "They threatened to put contractors in jail."
But airport attorneys said the barricade only delayed construction for three weeks and questioned Platinum's ability to open by March 2005 anyway. They claim Platinum overextended its budget so construction was delayed, in part, because the company had to redesign the project for financial reasons.
"Construction began in December 2004. There was simply no way construction would be complete in March 2005," said airport attorney Timothy Bertschy. "We made a mistake by putting up the equipment barricade. But was the project delayed by the equipment barricade? Our witness will say it did (delay construction) for three weeks, but not for 18 months, not for $6.5 million."
Bertschy also questioned Platinum's ability to earn $6.5 million in profits in an 18-month period.
As for the potential loss of future or current funding from the FAA, Judge James Souk said that matter must be worked out between the airport and the FAA and would not be in question during this case. The airport's contracts with the FAA and Platinum are two separate matters, he said.
A jury will determine what damages, if any, Platinum may be entitled to from the airport.
Carl G. Olson, Central Illinois Regional Airport executive director, leaves the Law & Justice Center on Thursday afternoon.
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