Timberview Helicopters sues for breach of contract, claims county griefs are 'overstated'

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

DESTIN — Timberview Helicopters, a tourism-driven business ordered in August to cease operations at Destin Executive Airport, is seeking $10 million in damage compensation from Okaloosa County.

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 14, the company claims the Board of County Commissioners wrongfully terminated its 35-year lease, citing safety reasons, to "appease a vocal minority of persons complaining of noise and overflights."

The lawsuit claims the county overstepped its authority by trying to regulate flight activities that fall under the sole province of the Federal Aviation Administration.

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"The county attempted to sidestep and obfuscate its obviously illegal and improper activity and breach of the contractual agreements with Timberview by stating that it was in the intent of safety," said the suit, filed by Clark Partington Attorneys at Law.

But county officials created their own long list of contractual agreement violations on the part of Timberview to make their case before the County Commission that business owner Justin Johnson had a history of non-compliance.

A Timberview Helicopters sightseeing helicopter leaves its pad to take people on an aerial tour of the Destin area shoreline.

Among Johnson's failures in holding up his end of the contract, county counsel Eric Pilsk told commissioners in June, was maintaining 11 helicopters on the Destin airport property while only providing certification of insurance for three.

Also missing from the documentation Timberview is contractually bound to provide, Pilsk said, were letters of authorization from the FAA that match up with the number of helicopters on airport property the company is allowed to operate.

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"We're not sure where all the helicopters are and where they all are stored," he said. "They've grown to a point where they exceed the ability or our contractual agreement to reasonably control."  

A document included as a supplement to the lawsuit filed by Timberview is one created by the county. It is titled "Chronological History of Timberview Issues at (Destin Executive Airport) since 2016."

In it there appear photos of six Timberview helicopters. Five of the photos bear an underlying caption that reads "no insurance on file." All of the photos were taken in 2020.

Timberview Helicopters

The insurance issue is one of several that indicate a "lack of care" that Pilsk told commissioners "is an ongoing issue with Timberlake."

"There has been an ongoing history of a lack of cooperation, of violating the operations agreement," he said. "We've seen a failure of Timberview to act as a true partner with the county as they should under the contractual agreement."

Timberview's lawsuit states that the company has a safety record that "was and remains unblemished."

It contends that many of the cited breaches of Timberview's contract are "false, overstated, misrepresented and (done) with the intent of terminating the contractual agreement."

 "At all times Timberview has complied with the contract, paid rents and fees as appropriated, responded to any complaints concerning the contract and otherwise is in full compliance, and all conditions precedent to this action have been met or complied with."

Mike Schofield, the lead attorney for Timberview in the case, said Friday the insurance claim was one of the county's misrepresentations.

A Timberview Helicopters sightseeing helicopter returns to its pad along Highway 98 in Destin after taking people on an aerial tour of the Destin area shoreline.

"There was never an insurance issue. The county took the position that every time we moved a helicopter we had to notify them. That's not what the contractual agreement says," Schofield said. "We had insurance and the county had that information. It would have been foolish of us not to have them insured. That was just another excuse to throw a little dirt on Timberview."

The lawsuit states that Timberview Helicopters personnel are no longer allowed on Destin Executive Airport grounds and seeks a temporary and a permanent injunction to allow it to continue operations. Not being able to do so, the lawsuit states, costs the company $9,546.46 daily.

Extrapolated over the 37 year life span of the contract, the lawsuit states, Timberview Helicopters is owed more than $10 million.