National airline carriers Tropic Air, based out of San Pedro Town, have had to halt a $6 million project for an airplane maintenance complex near the municipal airstrip because of a dispute over who owns the land on which the unfinished building is located.
Tropic Air has a lease issued since 2008 for the 300 by 60-foot plot of land, but due to human error at the Lands Department, their lease was cancelled because another lease and later a title was granted to Construction Depot Limited, owned by Brett Feinstein of the Benny’s Group of Companies.
This was despite Tropic Air agreeing to adjust their boundary by about five feet from where Construction Depot’s land starts. Facing losses of up to $2 million from construction which had already commenced last December, Tropic Air and Construction Depot counter-sued each other in the Supreme Court.
The case was called before Justice Michelle Arana and after meeting in chambers the two sides appeared willing to work out a settlement.
But the question remains: who is at fault for the dispute? Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith represents Tropic Air.
Reporter: “I ask Mr. Courtenay as well, who is on the wrong side and he says that he has a title to a piece of land in Tropic Air encroached. Who’s fault is this? Is this a ministry error at the Lands Department?”
Attorney Godfrey Smith: “I will not get into that except to seek our clients equally say that because of the lease they hold, they are entitled to the benefit of that lease, but because the matter is under negotiation and our parties are obliged to negotiate in a bonafide manner, I won’t comment on those matters at this time”.
Reporter: “There seems like there is something straightforward enough. There is land that a compensation can be made. Should your client have the benefit of the Government, since they are already occupying a property and work has stopped, etc.”.
Attorney Godfrey Smith: “All I will say is that I believe that the matter is capable of being solved if all parties continue to act in good faith to reach a settlement”.
While Smith preferred to wait for the dispute to be settled, rival Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay advanced the cautious view that the airline does share a bit of blame.
“I think the parties are making serious efforts to settle the matter. There is a real possibility that the matter can be settled. There are a few matter that need to be resolved which means that Mr. Feinstein’s and Construction Depots are recognized and to ensure that there is no continued encroachment by Tropic Air. Clearly, so far as we are concerned, there has been an encroachment.and the question is to find a way to resolve that. But I think that with the code offices of the government, we are able to do that. We are working on those”.
Reporter: “Who is to be blamed? Is it the administrative area at the Lands Department? From what I am able to see, I would say that some files Construction Depot is concerned, there is no doubt where we are that the title is clear intent, that the intent was to give us the property that was involved in and covered by that title, but what you have, is a situation on the ground, where Tropic Air apparently went beyond what they had by way of a lease. That lease, as you know, has been cancelled, which is a different issue. But in terms of what is happening on the ground, it is our view that Tropic Air clearly went beyond the limits of their lease”.
Both Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega and area representative and Minister responsible for Civil Aviation Manuel Heredia, Jr., have sought to have the dispute settled without resorting to court.