The Plaintiff and County of Humboldt have submitted an agreed upon stipulation to dismiss the ongoing litigation in U.S., ex rel. Doe v. County of Humboldt, Case No. CV 17-cv-05090-RMI. As described below this action was brought against the county regarding the award of Airport Improvement Grant funds and the County’s grant assurances around aviation rents and fees. This stipulation has been agreed to by the United States Department of Justice and is awaiting final signature by the Court which will resolve this case.
The agreed upon stipulation is attached to this news release.
The County of Humboldt was notified in December 2018 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of multiple regulatory compliance issues related to the county’s past management practices of their six-airport system. The county owns and operates the following facilities:
• California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport (ACV) in McKinleyville, CA
• Murray Field Airport (EKA) in Eureka, CA
• Rohnerville Airport (FOT) outside of Fortuna, CA
• Garberville Airport (O16) outside of Garberville, CA
• Kneeland Airport (O19) near Kneeland, CA
• Dinsmore Airport (D63) near Dinsmore, CA
The FAA is the federal agency responsible for regulatory oversight of the safety, business and operational practices, and capital grant programs of the county’s six-airport system and airports across the United States. The FAA conducted a special inspection of the county’s airports in August of 2018 as a result of a lawsuit filed earlier in 2018. The county was notified of the lawsuit in 2019. The Board of Supervisors took official action in September 2018 to create a Department of Aviation, thereby moving the county’s six airports out of the county’s Department of Public Works. Public Works had managed the airports until that time.
The compliance issues that were raised by the FAA in their December 2018 letter identified over $50,000,000 in past grant funding that the County of Humboldt may have been responsible for paying back to the United States Government, if the compliance issues were not addressed. Additionally, the County of Humboldt would not be eligible for tens of millions of dollars in FAA grant funding for infrastructure improvements moving forward. These Federal funds will be utilized for making infrastructure improvements at the county’s six airport system including: runways, taxiways, parking aprons, lighting systems, airfield signage, and numerous other assets to benefit all users of our airports. The plaintiff claimed similar compliance issues in the filing of the related lawsuit.
The County of Humboldt contracted with the Aviation Management Consulting Group (AMCG) in 2019 to provide assistance in addressing the compliance matters identified by the FAA. The cost of this contract was not to exceed $324,000. The Department of Aviation has been working with AMCG personnel over the past three years to make significant changes to past practices at the county’s six airports that were not in compliance with FAA regulations. These changes have included, but are not limited to:
• Conducting an Inventory and Appraisal of Airport Leases
• Developing New Lease Templates
• Adjusting Lease Rates
• Updating Airport Layout Plans (ALPs)
• Filing FAA Financial Reports
Conducting new appraisals and adjusting lease rates correspondingly was a significant issue the Department of Aviation was forced to address in relation to the lawsuit and FAA compliance. This obviously has an impact to tenants at various aviation facilities, especially long-term tenants. The Aviation Department, through the Aviation Advisory Committee, publicly shared the FAA compliance requirements and kept the committee and other stakeholders informed as the department progressed through the multitude of compliance matters, including appraisals and potential lease rate changes. The appraisals were conducted by an independent third party, and per FAA regulations, Aviation must charge lease rates based on an appropriate appraisal. The independent appraisal was the first ever conducted in the history of the airports in Humboldt County. The Aviation Department has worked with, and will continue to work with, all stakeholders during this transition time.
Board of Supervisors Chair-Virginia Bass stated, “We are thankful to be moving past this regulatory compliance and the associated legal matter. Our Board has had to make difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions to dig our airports out of this hole. We look forward to continuing to work with the community and the county team to make much-needed airport infrastructure improvements. We will now be eligible to seek federal funding to assist with these efforts.”
Director of Aviation-Cody Roggatz said, “I would like to thank the Board of Supervisors, CAO Elishia Hayes, Counsel Jefferson Billingsley, the FAA, Department of Aviation Staff, and the Aviation Advisory Committee, for all of the hard work that has gone into improving our airports to date. This has been a monumental team effort over the past three years. This work has involved dozens of people working collaboratively in making these, sometimes, very difficult changes. Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to thank the residents of Humboldt County who continue to use our airports daily: inclusive of all airport tenants, employees, and users. We have a lot of difficult work that lies ahead to continue implementing these improvements and ensuring ongoing regulatory compliance. However, I look forward to working with everyone in the Humboldt Community to modernize our airport infrastructure, and expand accessibility to our aviation services, in the future.”
County of Humboldt-Department of Aviation
The County of Humboldt-Department of Aviation operates and maintains six airports throughout Humboldt County. The California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport (ACV) added three new airlines and four new destinations in 2021. The airport now provides service from four airlines to seven direct destinations. With that growth the airport served more than 189,000 airline passengers in calendar year 2021 with service to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Denver International Airport (DEN), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), and Harry Reid-Las Vegas International Airport (LAS). In addition to the nearly 200,000 airline passengers, the Department of Aviation serves thousands of other users annually at all six airports, including but not limited to: The United States Coast Guard (USCG), Emergency Medical Aviation Providers and the General Aviation Community.