Claim seeks $7 million from city, county over airport eviction

Claim seeks $7 million from city, county over airport eviction »Play Video
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A multimillion dollar claim has been filed against both Yakima and Yakima County. It's connected to a company evicted from the Yakima Air Terminal. KIMA obtained exclusive copies of the claim and got the City's reaction.

It could end up as one pricey eviction.

Noland-Decoto once had a bustling business at the Yakima Air Terminal, renting hangar space and selling fuel under the name M.A. West Rockies. But, then it was booted in 2010.

The city of Yakima and Yakima County jointly owned the airport at the time. They claimed M.A. West Rockies hadn't paid rent. The company later went belly-up.

A recent Court of Appeals decision said M.A. West shouldn't have been evicted at all. The company had paid its rent within the time allowed. It's up to a lower court to assign damages. That decision has not been made.

And now, a $7 million tort claim against the city and county. That amount could triple if the entities are found liable for statutory trespass. KIMA showed the claims to the mayor of Yakima.

"Given the worst case scenario - $7 million, possibly $21 million - is this a damage award that the city can even afford?"

"I've not seen in my time that when you have a lawsuit or a claim that's this large, that that's what it ends up being," said Mayor Micah Cawley. "I don't know. I mean the city's going to have to afford whatever...whatever ends up being decided."

But, Yakima's city manager told KIMA in December that Yakima only had $800,000 in its risk management fund. And, it's not yet clear whether insurance will cover the claims.

The mayor floated the possibility of using taxpayer money.

KIMA asked, "What happens if there are insufficient funds in the risk management fund to cover the ultimate award and there isn't enough insurance to cover it either. Where does the rest of the money come from?"

"Well, we don't work in what-ifs," said Cawley. "But, we have a general fund reserve that we use and operate out of, and the city, in certain cases, if we have to access money, there's some there to access."

Mayor Cawley disputed the idea that the claim could stop Yakima's quest to get a fourth Alaska Airlines flight. He also said it shouldn't affect day-to-day operations at the airport.

But it's a looming claim with unknown consequences.

The claim was filed late today and KIMA was unable to reach any Yakima County commissioners in time for our deadline. The city and county have 60 days to respond to the claims before a lawsuit can be filed.