An aviation company operating at Scholes International Airport will give arguments Friday to a district judge about why the city of Galveston shouldn’t terminate a lease it has held for 10 years.
Galveston Aviation Services Inc., a fixed-base operator at the airport, filed the lawsuit June 25 and gained a temporary restraining order to stop the city from terminating its lease, according to the lawsuit.
A fixed-base operator provides services, such as supplying fuel, ordering rental cars and booking hotels, for private planes.
The company claims the city is wrongfully terminating the lease and is trying to exclude the company from business at the airport so that a new operator, Island Jet Center LLP, owned by Galveston resident Jay Balentine, can be the sole operator at the airport, according to the lawsuit.
Balentine didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment Thursday.
Galveston Aviation Services is owned by Doug Kingsbury, a Houston resident.
But the city said it wouldn’t renew the company’s 10-year lease, which ended in March, because the company wouldn’t bring its fuel tanks up to compliance with new federal and city standards, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
Galveston Aviation Services was required to come into compliance with federal and city standards that mandates the fuel tanks be secured during a storm and reasonably safe from flooding, Barnett said.
The company since March has been leasing on a month-to-month basis, Barnett said.
But when the company missed a May 24 deadline to give the city a plan to bring the tanks up to code, the city, on May 30, issued a 30-day lease termination notice, Barnett said.
“They never gave us a plan, then told us they did not intend to bring the tanks up to code,” Barnett said.
There was no preferential treatment given to Island Jet Center, Barnett said.
“Galveston Aviation Services was offered the same lease terms as the other company,” Barnett said.
The company refused those terms, Barnett said.
Galveston Aviation signed a new month-to-month lease with the understanding the city wouldn’t terminate its lease on a 30-day notice without good cause, company attorney Dan G. Hoffman said in a June 18 letter to the Texas Department of Transportation aviation division included in the lawsuit documents.
Hoffman, a Houston-based lawyer with his own practice, declined to comment on the case.
“Island Jet Center LLP is owned by Jay Balentine who is a local to the city of Galveston,” Hoffman said in the letter.
In response to the May 24 deadline, the company sent a letter to the city explaining that the fuel area didn’t need to be permitted because it wasn’t new development or substantially improved, that it would soon have its fuel storage tank registered with the state agency and that it wasn’t required to maintain inspection reports but did inspect the fuel every day, Hoffman said in the letter.
The company’s fuel tanks are already up to code, company General Manager Vicki McCormick said.
“They are safe,” McCormick said.
The aviation service has been operating for 10 years at Scholes International Airport and would like to continue providing services to its customers, McCormick said.
“We love being a part of the community,” McCormick said. “This has been very hard for me because we don’t know the reasoning behind this.”
She wasn’t sure why the new operator, Island Jet Center, was allowed to start business at the airport, McCormick said.
Island Jet Center began operations at the airport March 15, Oscar Villarreal, a manager with the company said.
It wasn’t the company’s intention to become the sole operator at the airport when it opened, Villarreal said.
Island Jet Center isn’t involved in the lawsuit, Villarreal said.
Fixed-base operators leasing space at the airport pay the city $2,274.76, plus another $86.60 per month for access to the fuel tanks and trucks area, Barnett said. Operators also pay 4 cents per gallon of fuel that the company has delivered, she said.
A judge is scheduled to hear arguments on the case Friday afternoon.