Judging from the coverage in our local Pulitzer Prize-nominated paper of this week’s Moore County board of commissioners meeting — and input from my sources present at said meeting — Moore County airport authority attorney Tom Van Camp scored a thorough, hands-down verbal knockout of Tim Lea in a heated debate during the meeting:
The Moore County Board of Commissioners approved the transfer of property from the airport authority to the county during Tuesday night’s meeting.
The matter involved 22 acres of county land deeded to the Moore County Airport. Airport authorities were willing to assign ownership of the property to the county, said their attorney, Tom Van Camp, provided two deed restrictions were maintained.
County Attorney Misty Leland, in a letter to the board, outlined those conditions. Specifically, both agencies had to continue to adhere to the law that created the Moore County Airport Authority 20 years ago and comply with the language in Federal Aviation Authority grants used to buy the property.
In her letter, Leland wrote that “I have previously made … an effort to negotiate the restrictions out of the deeds in the best interest of the county. However, Tom Van Camp stated that the language must stay in the deeds to protect the airport. I was informed that the board of commissioners could either accept the deeds with the restrictions or there would be no land transferred.”
Van Camp, who spoke at the meeting, described the issue for commissioners.
“As you know, the county already owns the airport,” he said. “As the attorney for the airport authority I saw no issues with the transfer, (and) there was no ill will or really any negotiations about whether we were going to do this or not. The only caveat is that I wanted to make sure whatever land was deeded to the county would be done so with an identical status as that of the existing property (already owned by the county.) The existing property falls within the umbrella of SB 942.”
Van Camp said the FAA requires that when it provides money to airports to buy land, the property can only be used for airport purposes and none other. He mentioned a county in another state that recently had to pay back $8 million to the FAA because it used land for a fire station that wasn’t expressly for an airport purpose.
Commissioner Tim Lea took issue, asking why the board needed to seek permission for how it used land it owned.
“If you take out the language that says the airport authority will have to approve our actions, then I will vote in favor of the motion right now,” he said.
But Van Camp said the county gave up that right to decide when the legislation creating the airport authority — SB 942 — became law in 1993.
“You delegated that right to the airport authority because the county was not interested in the nuances of running an airport,” Van Camp said. “Your real issue with control of the land is not with the airport authority, but with the FAA. You’ve got to get a release from the FAA to use this property for anything other than airport purposes.”
“My attorney is telling me that nowhere in the bill or in the FAA grant does it state that we have to get approval from the airport authority to take any action,” he said. “You’ve inserted a line that says we have to do that.”
Van Camp said he had no authority to change what the FAA has already approved.
“What concerns me is that you are defending it,” Lea said. “If it’s not a problem, then take it out.”
Van Camp called the discussion a “nonissue.”
“You want me to strike that language and then go to the FAA and say, ‘I hope you don’t mind what I did?’ This is silly,” he said. “You should be thankful we are deeding the land back to you.”
According to one of my sources, who was at the meeting, the paper went pretty easy on its coverage of the Lea-Van Camp discussion:
“What really shut commissioner Lea up was when the airport folks reminded him that the airport and the county had already been to court on this TWICE, and the airport had won both times. They told Mr. Lea that they would be glad to go back to court and make the county Oh-and-Three. Tim got very quiet after that.”