A tenfold increase in wastewater fees is causing friction between the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission and tenants at the airport business park, including the owner of Airport Laundromat who faces possible eviction if he doesn’t pay a $140,000 bill by early next month.

The airport commission voted at its meeting last week to send a demand letter to laundromat owner Nicholas Catt seeking payment by May 3.

Without payment or a payment plan, the commission said it will terminate the lease, not set to expire until 2026.

Laundromat at airport is one of only two clothes-washing facilities on the Vineyard. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The vote was unanimous following an executive session at the airport commission meeting last Thursday.

Mr. Catt claims the added fees are excessive and has hired an attorney to represent him.

The airport owns and operates its own wastewater facility that handles about four million gallons of wastewater annually from 61 customers including the airport, county and business park tenants. In February 2017 the airport commission voted to increase wastewater fees from roughly $8 per thousand gallons to $80 per thousand gallons. The fees had not been raised for a number of years and were needed to help pay for overdue upgrades at the wastewater facility, according to meeting minutes.

The laundromat, one of only two public clothes-washing facilities on the Vineyard, is by far the largest user of the wastewater facility and takes up some 44 per cent of the plant capacity.

Airport leaders say they have been forced to make up a $443,000 annual shortfall on the wastewater facility with aeronautical fees and rents, which puts them at risk for losing FAA grant funding. FAA regulations require that revenues generated by the airport can only be used to fund expenses related to air transportation.

“We’re required by the FAA to charge what it costs to operate the plant. If we operate at a loss then that means we’re doing something that takes away from the airport,” said airport manager Ann Richart.

She added that the airport receives at least $1 million in funding from the federal government each year under the assurance that the airport will charge enough for leases and service fees to cover the costs of providing those services, such as wastewater treatment.

Airport wastewater manager Mike Eldridge said this week that the facility is now facing a 2020 deadline from the MassDEP to upgrade or risk fines or loss of operating license.

“The furnace hasn’t worked for the past four years, so there’s no heat in the winter,” Mr. Eldridge said. “There are safety issues with the electrical system rotted. We’re working in puddles.”

But in a statement this week, Mr. Catt said the fee hikes were arbitrary and caused his 2017 wastewater bill to skyrocket, going from $31,390 to $150,400. “The laundromat has always paid its rent to the airport on time,” Mr. Catt said in the statement. “The current additional amounts now being demanded by the airport represents not rent but increased wastewater charges.”

Mr. Catt did not attend the airport commission meeting last week, but in a letter sent to the commission before the meeting, Harry Beach, a Norwood attorney representing Mr. Catt, asked that discussion on the matter be moved to June because his client had not received adequate advance notice. Mr. Beach also charged that the commission had violated the open meeting law by deliberating by email with each other before the meeting. The letter includes an extensive public records request seeking correspondence, emails and other documents from the commission.

Meanwhile, the commission has seen backlash from other business park tenants over the wastewater fee hikes. The business park tenants association has hired an attorney to research the legality of the rate increase, tenant Ted Rosbeck said this week.

“It’s become obvious that they [airport commission] have an agenda to focus on the business park as a source of funds they are lacking under the veil of FAA’s mandate,” he said.

Airport commission member Mr. Rosenbaum said the airport lost $1.7 million between 2009 and 2016 from not charging enough for wastewater use. The airport is not trying to recover previous losses, he said, but looking to break even on expenses in the future so it can pay for upwards of $2 million in upgrades to the facility.

Mr. Rosenbaum also said the commission sent a letter six months prior to the final vote informing tenants of the impending change.

Mr. Rosbeck said he remembers receiving a letter, but it lacked a clear justification for the rate increases. He added that tenants were not provided opportunities to discuss the changes with the airport commission. He said he’s spoken with many tenants with growing concerns.

“There seems to be some confusion over how the rates are developed, what exactly they are for, and what the backup is to justify those rates,” said Mr. Rosbeck said. “In our opinion that’s a pretty bad way to do things.”

Peter Rogers, president of the tenants association, said he doesn’t recall a letter warning him of rate changes and called the increase excessive and unfair. He said many essential Island services are located in the park, so higher rates don’t just hurt tenants, but everyone on the Island.

“When they raise the prices at the business park, they raise prices for everyone on the Vineyard,” he said.