A long-simmering legal battle between the Oregon Department of Transportation and the owners of Sisters Airport has been resolved by a settlement arrived at this spring.

ODOT had sought the return of $733,000 in Connect Oregon funds granted in 2016 for extensive improvements to the local airport.  The settlement — arrived at after a Marion County court summary judgment — and a joint statement effectively acknowledge that funds were not misused as ODOT had claimed.

The statement notes that “any and all liability is expressly denied,” and that the agreement “fully satisfies all Connect Oregon V grant agreement accounting issues.” The statement acknowledges that, “both sides acted in good faith throughout the process.” ODOT also “acknowledges the public benefits of the airport improvement funded by the grant to the Central Oregon community.”

The funds from the grant were legitimately spent on the project and the costs were reasonable and appropriate for the project.

Airport owners Benny and Julie Benson did agree to repay $115,000 over 15 years at no interest to resolve enforcement of one provision of the grant that disallowed the airport from contracting Energyneering Solutions, Inc. — also owned by the Bensons — for project work because both entities have the same owner.

The court acknowledged ODOT’s right to enforce that provision, but noted that,  “This conclusion is a bitter one, for SAP (Sisters Airport Property, LLC) appeared upfront and transparent with their intent to retain ESI. ODOT could have prevented this entire conflict by addressing this either before approving the grant or before work commenced. Nevertheless, ODOT has the legal authority to invoke these contract provisions at this time — coming, as counsel for Plaintiff (the Bensons) states, ‘after the concrete has been poured and dried.’”

Benson told The Nugget that, “As a licensed engineering and general contracting firm already located at the project site, we were able to build the project for 36 percent of the cost of other airport projects, when measured in (dollars per square yard) of pavement. By doing the professional work ‘in house,’ we were able to get three times the amount of pavement from grant funds.”

Benson also told The Nugget that they spent over $100,000 in legal fees in the dispute.

The joint statement recognizes that “both parties agreed to come to agreement and avoid a costly trial and potential appeal.”

Julie Benson told The Nugget, “We want to get back to supporting and building the aviation community in Sisters.”