LA/Ontario International Airport has has suffered a 32 percent decline in airline passengers since 2007. The airport had once been projected to server 30 million passengers by 2030. (Bulletin file photo)

Liset Márquez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Created: 01/19/2012 09:15:13 AM PST

ONTARIO – The battle has begun in earnest.

Officials on both sides of the LA/Ontario International Airport dispute this week lashed out at each other for information they say is misleading and a misrepresentation.

Late Wednesday night, Ontario officials angrily responded to Los Angeles World Airport’s strong criticism of their attempt to take back control of the struggling facility.

“Not only did you misrepresent Ontario’s proposal,” City Manager Chris Hughes said about LAWA’s comments, but “you prematurely commented on terms of an airport transfer prior to allowing policy makers sufficient opportunity to explore negotiation terms and consider all options.”

Until now, Ontario had engaged in private talks with officials of Los Angeles and LAWA, which operates ONT as well as Los Angeles International Airport, in an effort to regain control of ONT.

Things changed earlier this week when Ontario launched a media campaign to sway Los Angeles voters in their quest to regain control of ONT.

The campaign includes a website – SetOntarioFree.com – as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account. On Thursday, city officials announced they had also launched a YouTube channel.

Included in the efforts was poll results that city officials say shows a majority of voters support the transfer of ONT to Ontario from Los Angeles.

The poll results prompted LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey to fire back at Ontario, saying the agency does not intend to abandon its fiduciary responsibilities of ONT.

Lindsey said she rejected Ontario’s $50 million deal to buy back the airport, referring to the offer’s amount as a “foreclosure price.”

She also referred to Ontario’s poll as “misleading and an attempt to deflect the truth.”

“LAWA expects to continue to focus its work on building ONT to its potential, rather than be distracted by repeated attempts to engage in a process to sell an airport that is not for sale,” Lindsey said.

Ontario officials had refrained from disclosing their offer because they were in negotiations with LAWA.

Hughes publicly released a letter, addressed to Lindsey, outlining “numerous factual errors” she made in her statement.

Hughes said Ontario is not proposing to buy ONT, but is seeking a transfer of the operator from one public agency to another.

In its negotiations with LAWA, Ontario said they have offered Los Angeles officials a “comprehensive financial package,” which assumes all debts and financial obligations of the airport.

The package included a “generous and unprecedented payment” to Los Angeles to pay back any transaction costs associated in the transfer as well as the dissolution of the 1967 Joint Powers Agreement between the two agencies, Hughes said.

The airport’s history with LAWA dates back to 1967, when Los Angeles, at the request of Ontario, began managing and developing Ontario Airport, which at the time was serving less than a million passengers, Lindsey said.

Since then, more than $560 million in airport capital improvements have been made utilizing funds from a combination of LAX and ONT revenues, Federal Aviation Administration grants and bond proceeds secured by LAWA, she said.

“At the time, these investments and improvements were being made at ONT, LAX was deteriorating and not enough money was being re-invested for capital improvements,” she said.

Lindsey said Ontario’s offer does not come close to either the value of the airport today or address the value of the significant investment Los Angeles has dedicated to ONT.

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