The first of two auctions for the Oak Harbor Airport was completely uneventful last Friday morning.
A handful of people gathered outside the Island County Law and Justice Center to witness the sheriff’s auction ordered by Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock at the conclusion of a tangled lawsuit that began in 2002.
But not a peep was uttered during the bidding period. The amount required to settle the judgment was $944,000, so the minimum bid would have had to top that.
The lack of action basically meant that Joel Eisenberg, owner of Air International LLC, won the auction. Both he and his attorney, John Du Wors of Seattle, said beforehand that they didn’t expect anyone to bid. The attorney even admitted that the airport, formally named the Wes Lupien Airport, probably isn’t worth the minimum bid.
Plus, the litigation that has enmeshed the airport for so long isn’t over. The auction resolved one of three lawsuits. The others involve the first position deed of trust and appointment of a receiver.
“Nobody wants to buy an airport subject to a deed,” Du Wors said.
Yet the legal wrangling hasn’t stopped service out of the airport. Tim Brooks, director of flight operations for Seattle-based Kenmore Air, said flights will almost certainly continue no matter what happens in court.
“Kenmore is there for the long haul in the community,” he said. “Any scenario that would play out would leave us as an integral part of the airport.”
Nevertheless, he keeps an eye on the lawsuits. “Our land use attorney said it’s the most convoluted land use cases he’s ever seen,” he said.
In an interview, Eisenberg said he’ll be glad to finally have ownership of the airport without any legal caveats. He said he plans to make improvements to the facility once the title is “free and clear.”
“Whidbey Island is a wonderful place and it deserves better than it is getting,” he said.
Eisenberg, a Seattle area resident, said he retired after a diverse career. He is most famous as a pioneer of the “976” phone call industry in the 1980s. He said the subject matter ranged from Santa Claus for kids to very adult chat.
The first position debt is owned by Brooke Barnes, Whidbey resident and owner of Lonesome Polecat LLC. He filed a notice of trustee sale to recoup his $95,000 investment and then a lot more. In all, he wants to collect $793,000 in a public auction scheduled for July 18.
That auction may not occur. Du Wors said he is going to argue to the judge that the first position debt is invalid because it expired. He explained that, under state law, Barnes had to file a claim within six years or the statute of limitations comes into play.
Du Wors said people have offered to cure Barnes’ debt, but he refused because of “his greedy desire to own the airport without paying retail price.”
“Pigs eat, hogs get slaughtered,” Du Wors said.
Du Wors claims that the ceaseless litigation is the fault of Barnes, who he claimed files lawsuits as a hobby.
So far, Barnes has lost every round in court. In the major lawsuit over the second position, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock granted Air International’s claim for foreclosure and dismissed Barnes’ claims against Air International, Eisenberg and Oak Harbor residents William and Geri Morgan last December, court documents show.
In April, Judge Vickie Churchill denied Barnes’ motion to appoint a receiver to collect revenues from the airport.
It’s been seven years since the Gig Harbor-based Harbor Air abruptly ceased operations at the airport after falling into financial trouble. The company, owned by Rick Boehlke, controlled the property and flew commercial flights from the airport on Monroe Landing Road.
The airport was scheduled for auction in 2001 after Harbor Air stopped paying the mortgage, but Air International swooped in to purchased the debt.
Barnes didn’t return a call for comment.