MENOMINEE — The tenuous relationship between Menominee County and the airport hangar owners is close to unraveling.

With only five of the 28 lease holders meeting the Tuesday deadline to submit new lease agreements with the Menominee Regional Airport, the committee voted Tuesday to have the Sheriff’s Department serve warning letters today, giving those hangar owners five business days to sign a new lease or face possible eviction.

Individuals and groups who own hangars on airport property do not own the land beneath their buildings. New lease agreements were sent out to those owners after Menominee County received official approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation-Aeronatics to take over sponsorship of the airport. Prior to assuming sponsorship of the airport, Menominee and Marinette counties had co-owned and managed the airport for several decades.

Commissioner Larry Schei, chairman of the airport committee, said Tuesday that the need for new lease agreements had to wait for FAA and MDOT approval, as well as the approval of the county’s legal counsel.

Schei said the lease agreements not only received FAA and MDOT approval, but approval by the Menominee County Board of Commissioners. “It was approved by the county board, MDOT and the FAA, as long as the price per square foot was equal across the board,” he said at the committee meeting.

But some tenants were not pleased with the lease agreement offered by the county. George Sporie, who spoke at the beginning of the meeting and the end during public comment, said he was concerned that the change in the lease limiting it to a 10-year period, rather than the 40 years offered in the past, would impact the value of the tenant’s buildings. After the committee voted unanimously in favor of having final notices delivered to the tenants who have not responded to the request for new lease agreements, Sporie said he was unhappy with how tenants were treated. “I have never seen such unmitigated contempt toward (lease holders),” he said. His comments were also directed at a decision to restrict tenant access to the terminal in the wake of vandalism that occurred in recent weeks and months.

County Administrator Jason Carviou recommended the county board and committee send the warning letters to tenants, saying “MDOT said the new leases are required, and from the county’s standpoint, there is no gray area.”

The letter would inform tenants they have five business days from delivery, or May 23 at 4:30 p.m., to “return the signed lease and necessary documentation to the County Administrator’s office.”

According to wording on the draft letter to be delivered to the tenants, “Menominee County will begin the eviction process if we do not received your signed lease and necessary documentation by the above deadline. There are no exceptions to this deadline.”

Wayne Beyer, who owns one of the 35 hangars which lease space (several people or companies own multiple hangars), said he never received a request to sign a new lease.

“I never got one,” he said during the last public comment period. Beyer said he saw other people’s agreements and eventually obtained one in January, which he signed and sent in, only to be told “it was the wrong one.”

As far as receiving an eviction notice, Beyer said, “You might as well serve it to me now, because you are going to have a fight on your hands.”

The committee had also discussed Carviou’s decision to have the locks changed on the terminal building, after employees noticed the building had been entered during the weekend and lights were turned on and left on.

“On video surveillance, we saw an individual come into the building and turn lights on,” Carviou said, adding that the person did not seem to do anything in the building other than turn on the lights and leave. When employees turned off the lights, they returned the next day to find them on again. Carviou said there were other reports of intentionally clogged toilets and water left running, all of which led to the decision to change the locks as well as the key code to get into the building.

Carviou said the administrator’s office, the two airport employees and the Sheriff’s Department now have the only keys to the building. Both employees’ telephone numbers are posted near the door, should they be needed and a portable toilet would be installed outside for anyone needing to use the facilities.

Carviou said, given the recent problems, “it is prudent to lock down the building when we are not open.”

County Board Chairman Gerald Piche said “it was a shame we have to do this, but I understand it.”

“This is a liability the county should not have to bear,” Carviou said.

He would not say who was seen on the videos, telling commissioners that the identity of the individual would be withheld in case criminal charges were filed.