Ogden airport hangar issue draws state lawmakers’ ire; Caldwell answers back
OGDEN — As state lawmakers mull legislation targeting Ogden’s controversial efforts to prod longtime tenants from hangars at Ogden-Hinckley Airport, Mayor Mike Caldwell is defending the initiative, responding to critics taking aim at the city.
“City officials weren’t given an opportunity to respond,” Caldwell said in a letter Saturday to Utah Sen. Michael McKell and Rep. James Dunnigan, co-chairs of Utah’s Political Subdivisions Interim Committee, which addressed the issue during a hearing on Nov. 15. “Ogden City believes that facts and inferences are best understood by hearing both sides of a dispute.”
Several former or current occupants of hangars at the airport addressed committee members — largely sympathetic to their pleas — blasting the city’s moves as unfair and asking Utah lawmakers to intervene. While private investors own airport hangars, some of them dating to the 1940s, Ogden owns the land where they sit and has started taking over the structures as leases expire as part of broader airport redevelopment efforts.
David Shumway — prodded by the city to move a “non-aeronautical” business out of a hangar he owns — alluded to ordinance changes enacted in 2021 by the Ogden City Council that allowed the city to proceed with its efforts. The issue spurred hangar operators to sue the city in U.S. District Court, which dismissed the lawsuit last year, though their appeal is still pending at the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver.
“Because the city made a law doesn’t make it right. Legislative involvement is the only way Ogden will correct this travesty,” Shumway said at the Nov. 15 hearing. The “property grab,” as he put it, “is a violation of trust.”
Shumway still leases the hanger that previously housed his business, uses it just for aeronautical purposes now, but had to sell three other hangars he had to cover the cost of the business move.
McKell, a Republican from Spanish Fork, said he is “troubled” over the situation. Rep. Katy Hall, a Republican from South Ogden who has championed the issue on behalf of the hangar owners, said the matter — ideally — should be left to local officials to resolve.
“But as we’ve seen, they’ve been dealing with this for four to five years without anyone listening,” Hall said. Accordingly, when constituents keep approaching her and other lawmakers with their concerns over the city’s actions, “it becomes something that we should be taking a look at.”
Hall proposed legislation during the 2023 session in response to the controversy, which stalled, and says she’ll be considering action during the 2024 session.
In his letter Saturday, Caldwell answered back, defending the city’s efforts as a way to overhaul the aging airport infrastructure and breathe new live into the facility, first built in 1943. City officials attended the Nov. 15 hearing but weren’t allowed to testify directly to the committee, like Shumway and others.
“Many hangars are aged, in poor repair or do not support modern aviation demand and future trends. Substantial airport redevelopment will be needed to ensure future financial sustainability of the airport,” Caldwell wrote.
He charged that Ogden taxpayers “have subsidized” payments by hangar leaseholders, around 90% of whom live outside the city, for decades. What’s more, Caldwell wrote, the hangar policy Ogden is now more rigorously implementing complies with Federal Aviation Administration best practices on local airport operation.
In the past, the city has more regularly renewed hangar leases as they’ve expired, hamstringing efforts to upgrade the airport. “As a result, very little airport redevelopment has occurred, and financial sustainability remains a challenge,” Caldwell wrote.
Broadly, the city’s aim is to demolish older hangars — owned by the tenants — as the tenants’ leases expire so at least some can be rebuilt anew. The aim is to make the facility more attractive to outside investment and self-sustaining as the city pushes for modernization and to bring in commercial carriers.
Troy Larkin, a hangar owner who also addressed the committee on Nov. 15, said if Ogden is going to take over hangars when their leases expire, the owners ought to be paid fair market value for them in return. He asked for continuation of the city’s prior policy of regularly renewing leases when they expire.
In his response to the state lawmakers, however, Caldwell included a 2018 letter from an FAA official to an airport official in Ventura County, California, that outlines the agency’s view on hangars and leases. The California airport was apparently facing issues similar to Ogden’s.
Lease agreements should be long enough — 25 to 50 years — to allow hangar owners to recoup their investment, wrote Kevin Willis, director of the FAA’s Office of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis. Then hangar ownership should revert to airports. “Reversionary clauses in leases of public property are standard business practices, as ultimately title to improvements on public lands will ultimately vest with the airport,” Willis wrote.
Ogden’s leases with hangar operators have all contained reversionary clauses going back “decades,” Caldwell wrote. To essentially grant airport land to hangar operators by indefinitely renewing their leases, he went on, would run afoul of FAA rules governing provision of grant funds.
In his letter, Caldwell also countered specific charges that came out at the hearing.
In a letter from an anonymous hangar owner read to the committee, the letter writer charged that an Ogden City attorney had said, “Don’t fight me. I can outspend you.”
“That is a false quote; it never happened,” Caldwell wrote.
Caldwell also said the city is willing to work with a consultant now to help resolve the thorny situation rather than await completion of an audit of the airport to be carried out by Utah legislative auditors, as sought by Hall. City officials had initially intended to wait for completion of the audit before teaming with the consultant.
“Nevertheless, based on committee members’ urging, the city will immediately contract with the airport consultant that Rep. Hall requested, who will be making his review simultaneous with the legislative audit,” Caldwell wrote.
Caldwell also countered the comments of another hangar owner who works with the U.S. Forest Service, Kelly Crozier, who said he was told by city officials to evict the federal agency from the airport.
“The city has not requested eviction of the Forest Service. In fact, city officials met with Forest Service representatives over a year ago to assure them that the city desires the Forest Service to maintain, and expand, its operation at the airport indefinitely,” Caldwell wrote.
In an interview with the Standard-Examiner, Hall said she’s encouraged by the election of Ben Nadolski as Ogden’s new mayor in elections last week. He takes office from Caldwell, who didn’t seek reelection, next January.
Nadolski, Hall said, “really wants to find a way forward, which is refreshing.” Hall proposed legislation during the 2023 session last February, House Bill 367, that would have required airport operators to pay fair market value for hangars on expiration of land leases. That measure stalled, but she’s still open to proposing legislation in the 2024 session, she said.
Nadolski, also in comments to the Standard-Examiner, said he favors bringing in an outside party to help mediate a fix. As is, he’s not seeing enough communication and collaboration between the sides, and he’d like to see a solution the varied players can agree on, not something that’s dictated or imposed by one side.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Shumway’s involvement with the city and his hangars.