City loses eviction battle at airport site
Eight months after the city of Madras shut off his sewer in an attempt to evict Paul Jensen from his leased airport property, the city has lost its battle in civil court.
After a two-day trial, a jury of six people found that the city did not have the right to evict Jensen.
"The jury came back unanimously saying the lease from 1978 gave him the right to a five-year renewal and subsequent renewal, as long as he was paying his bills," said Michael Sheehan of Scappoose, Jensen's attorney.
Recalling the original lease, Sheehan said that Jensen lived up to his part of the bargain. "That lease required him to put in all these investments, buildings, concrete pad, fences; in order to make those investments, you have to have some security to make sure you're not going to be forced out at the end of five years."
Jensen, 62, who had operated an aerial applications business at the Madras Airport for the past 28 years, was told March 31, when he took in a rent check, that the city wanted him off the property by June 1.
Calling his lease "nonperforming," since he was several months behind in his payments, the city refused his check for $1,000, and took action to evict him.
"The city turned the sewer off back in April," said Jensen, who had jobs lined up as far away as the Nevada border. "It's pretty hard to operate a business when you don't have any sewer connection."
Without sewer access, Jensen had to contract with another aerial applicator. "There's no way I'd operate handling pesticides under those circumstances," he explained. "If you got something on you, where would you wash it off?"
Based on a five-year average, Jensen estimates that he lost out on about $150,000 worth of work.
"The other operator, from Ontario, took care of my work upcountry, but I had to abandon the work I do in Prineville, Post/Paulina, John Day Valley," he said.
Jensen, who used the $15,000 he would normally have spent on liability insurance for his plane to defend his lease, feels vindicated by the outcome of the trial, which ended Dec. 12.
"I don't think the decision was a matter of sympathy; it was a matter of what was agreed upon," he said.
"The jury's decision is that the lease of 1978 is still in full force and effect," he said, noting that a 1985 extension specified that he would follow all DEQ regulations. "I had no problem with that. It said under the same terms and conditions as the regular lease."
In 1998, when he went in to renew, he was told he'd signed away his easy renewals. "We argued back and forth for eight years, and the city tried to enforce it," he said.
"What's really tragic from my point of view is that I wasn't even allowed to talk to any of the council members," Jensen noted. "I called two of them, and they said they were under orders not to talk to me."
Although he went before the council, he said they weren't allowed to discuss it. "I think if I'd been able to sit down and talk to the council members, we could have worked something out that wouldn't have been so devastating," he said.
The jury's verdict does not provide compensation to Jensen for his losses, but does direct the city to pay for his attorney fees.
"Hopefully the city will turn back on the sewer service, and Paul and Gayle Jensen can get back on with their lives," Sheehan said on Friday.
City Administrator Mike Morgan referred questions about the trial to the city's legal representative Chris Bagley. Bagley did not respond to a telephone message left at his office.
Jensen said the sewer was reconnected Friday afternoon. "I'm glad that phase is over with, and we'll go from there," he said Jensen, adding, "I've been trying to get things organized to get my life back together."