Legal costs ascend in SilverWing lawsuit

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A model hangar home is seen through a security gate at SilverWing at Sandpoint. (Photo by KEITH KINNAIRD)

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners declared a financial emergency Wednesday to sustain its vigorous defense of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by developers of SilverWing at Sandpoint.

The declaration enables the county to pull additional funding from a contingency account in the county’s justice fund to cover legal costs in the federal lawsuit.

The county budgeted $400,000 in the current fiscal year to fend off the suit and the emergency declaration increases that line item by another $450,000, for a total of $850,000.

The county spent $400,000 during the last fiscal year on the SilverWing suit.

“It’s the nature of the litigation and the risk is so high that we have to fight it aggressively,” said Commissioner Mike Nielsen, noting that an adverse judgment could cost taxpayers up to $26 million. “We cannot afford to ignore this litigation.”

SilverWing, a fly-in housing project under development on west side of Sandpoint Airport, filed suit in U.S. District Court last year, alleging that the county engaged in unfair dealings and violated the developers’ rights to equal protection under the law.

The 45-unit subdivision features hybrid dwellings that are part residence and part aircraft hangar. At the time of the suit’s filing, developers said $6.1 million had been spent grading home sites and installing utility and road infrastructure.

When the developers purchased the 18-acre site in 2007, an easement afforded through-the-fence access to the airport grounds.

SilverWing alleges in the suit that the county sought to shutter direct access to the airport under pressure from the Federal Aviation Administration and was not forthright about plans to relocate a runway, which it argues would encroach onto its property and conflict with a $500,000 taxiway it developed.

The matter is set to be tried in federal court this spring, according to Nielsen.

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