Updated April 18 at 4:40 pm
Airport Laundromat has been given 21 days — until May 3 — to repay $140,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission or lose its lease.
In a 5-0 vote last Thursday, the commission authorized airport manager Ann Richart and the commission’s attorney to contact laundromat owner Nick Catt and his attorney, telling them that the funds — which represent water usage charges — either be paid or a repayment plan established.
Catt has not made payments for six months, commission chairman Robert Rosenbaum said.
Airport Laundromat has a lease through 2026.
Rosenbaum said Catt was notified that the issue of his lease was going to be brought up at Thursday’s meeting. Catt did not attend.
Commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes said he supported the decision only because Catt was notified of the meeting and failed to attend.
The issue wasn’t listed as an executive session, but because Catt’s attorney sent a letter threatening litigation, counsel advised the commission that it was authorized to go into executive session to discuss litigation strategy, Rosenbaum said.
The commission met in executive session for a little more than 30 minutes before reconvening to take a public vote.
“We bend over backwards with all the leaseholders,” Rosenbaum said.
The letter from attorney Harry Beach on behalf of Catt requests a continuance of the hearing until June, saying Catt was only notified of the meeting two days prior. “This unfairly prejudices my client’s ability and right to engage legal counsel, and to prepare and present his case to the MVAC,” the letter states.
The letter accuses the commission of violating the open meeting law by deliberating through email exchanges. It asks for an extensive list of public records.
Accusations were made in the letter that are not accurate, Rosenbaum said. “We will certainly defend ourselves against those accusations.”
Airport Laundromat makes up 44 percent of the capacity for the airport’s wastewater treatment facility, which the commission is under orders from the Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade, commissioner Don Ogilvie said.
“The laundromat is such an important user,” he said. “He’s been subsidized for a big share of his costs.”
Nick Catt responds
On April 12, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission voted unanimously 5-0 to give Airport Laundromat owner Nick Catt 21 days to pay $140,000 owed to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport in back rent or lose his lease.
On Tuesday, in an email to The Times, Catt responded to the commission ruling, stating the laundromat has always paid its rent on time and that the $140,000 is for wastewater charges that have skyrocketed in recent years.
Airport Laundromat has a lease through 2026.
“On behalf of the Island community and the many businesses at the Business Park, we at the Airport Laundromat and the customers we serve are disappointed by the recent decision of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission to disregard the needs of our Island community by taking ill-advised and hostile steps to evict the Laundromat from the Airport,” he said. “The commission’s decision demonstrates a lack of understanding of the needs of the Island community, our Island environment, and basic business principles.”
Catt claimed the airport has “arbitrarily and capriciously raised wastewater rates on Business Park tenants from $8.60 per thousand gallons of wastewater to $80 per thousand gallons, a 930 percent increase.”
“He’s just used to underinflated rates,” Airport Commission chairman Bob Rosenbaum said in a phone conversation with The Times.
The airport’s new rate of .08 cents per gallon is “actually in line with Edgartown, Tisbury, and Hyannis rates,” Rosenbaum said.
The previous average rate of .01 cents per gallon was the result of extraordinarily lax airport management in years past, Rosenbaum said.
“Prior management and prior commissions didn’t do their jobs. People were paying far below market rate for years,” airport commissioner Rich Michaelson said.
The rate increase, according to Catt, goes against prior commitments made by the airport to secure long-term leases with non-aviation tenants. He also said the airport receives in excess of $1.25 million in annual rent, excluding water and wastewater payments, from its non-aviation tenants. After expenses, the airport profits $1 million a year from non-aviation tenants, Catt said. “And yet this is not enough for the airport,” Catt said.
Catt added that there are no requirements placed on the airport by the Federal Aviation Administration to recover expenses of its wastewater facility on any expedited, nonamortized basis.
Rosenbaum described Catt as a “huge user of the wastewater facility.”
He confirmed Catt is up to date with rent, but in arrears with his wastewater fees, and therefore in violation of his lease.
Rosenbaum framed Catt’s setup as “cushy” in that he draws water from a grandfathered well, whereas the rest of the airport gets its water from Oak Bluffs municipal infrastructure.
If Catt doesn’t satisfy a 21-day correction order (pay the sum owed), Rosenbaum said he risks lease termination.
“The Airport Commission would have the Island believe that its aviation customers are supporting the Business Park,” Catt concluded. “This is not true. In fact, it is the Airport’s non-aviation tenants (including the Laundromat), and the Island community that patronizes them, that are subsidizing aviation activity at the Airport.”
In other business at its Thursday, April 12, meeting, commissioners announced that Martha’s Vineyard Airport will add gates and pay stations for its parking lots. Mike Mihalow, director of business development for LAZ Parking, a national company that specializes in paid lots, told commissioners his company looked at neighboring Nantucket to set the rates, and Martha’s Vineyard still remains cheaper.
Island residents will still be charged nothing for parking up to six hours, and $10 per day, Mihalow said. Non-Island residents will pay nothing for up to 3 hours, but $12 for three to five hours, and $15 or $20 for 24 hours, depending on the season, he said.
Nantucket’s daily fee is $20 per day throughout the year, Mihalow said.
The fees compare favorably to what’s charged by the Steamship Authority, Mihalow said, noting that the ferry service now has a $50 fee. “They’ve already implemented a higher rate structure for three months per year,” he said.
It’s in the annual fees where prices jump significantly. Island-registered vehicles will still pay $500, but Massachusetts-registered vehicles will double to $1,500, and out-of-state vehicles will also increase by $750, to $1,750 per year. Island commercial vehicles will continue to pay $750 per year, while state registered vehicles will pay $1,950 — a $450 increase.
Barnes suggested a $600 annual fee as an incentive for people to buy annual passes no matter where the vehicle is registered, though Richart pointed out that an Island resident pays $500 per year under the fees proposed.
“You’re going to leave money on the table,” Mihalow said. The parking is “highly undervalued for what you should be collecting” at the airport, he said.
LAZ expects to have the arm gates and pay stations installed by May 15, Mihalow said.
The fees were approved 4-0, with Barnes abstaining from the vote. “I don’t think we’ve done it justice,” Barnes said.
Barnes predicted people will be upset by the new pay system. “It’s been so loosey-goosey,” he said.
Mihalow said the pay stations and card system will provide valuable data that will inform the commission on rate setting.
“We don’t know how many we’re missing because we just don’t have any data,” Richart said.
Runway work and expansion
The airport will be working on a $679,000 resurfacing project of its main runway starting in October, if all goes according to plan, Richart said.
In a 5-0 vote, the commission approved awarding a contract for the project to McFarland Johnson, although commissioner R. Peter Wharton expressed some uncertainty about the funding for the project.
Richart said the project will be paid for with a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, but that funding may not come until October, when the project is scheduled to begin.
Under the plan, the runway pavement will be ground and new asphalt added, Richart said. The shoulders of the runway, which are in bad shape and have been criticized by the FAA, will be removed, she said. The electrical and lighting will be redone as well, Richart said. The length and the width will remain the same, with the exception of the shoulders being removed, she said.
An independent engineer provided a fee estimate of $779,000 for the work, Richart said. “That is verification for you and the FAA that this is a valid and cheap price,” she said of McFarland and Johnson’s price.
Work will be done in the hopes of avoiding the airport’s busy season from May through Columbus Day, but there are other dates where airlines may have to use smaller planes to use the other runway, Richart said, such as during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day, which are also peak times for airport service.
Matthew O’Brien, a project engineer for McFarland Johnson, said the project work would take
87 consecutive calendar days, “and that’s at breakneck speed,” to complete the project.
Work is weather-dependent, Richart said.
In other business, O’Brien provided an update on possible development of airport land. O’Brien said for now the focus is on releasing lots for development. That work will be concentrated on the existing business park, he said.
The commission also approved a license agreement with JJ’s Motocross. The motocross park has had an agreement to use a parcel since 2014. A request to hook up to water was denied, because no improvements are allowed under a license agreement.
The park wanted water to keep dust down, so Richart told them to bring in a water truck for those purposes.
JJ’s doesn’t pay rent for the space. “He’s making use of property that’s otherwise just sitting there,” Richart said.
In answer to a question from Wharton, Richart said the airport is indemnified from any injury that occurs on the track.
Brian Dowd and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this report.