A South Jersey development agency and its former executive director have settled dueling lawsuits over the alleged mismanagement of a proposed aviation research park that remains stuck on the drawing board after years of delays.
Gordon Dahl sued the South Jersey Economic Development District for breach of contract in December 2012 after he was fired while overseeing the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park in Atlantic County.
The district responded with a countersuit that accused Dahl of mismanagement, giving himself unauthorized pay raises and concealing funding shortages at the agency.
Will Morey, who serves as chairman of the SJEDD’s board of directors, said both sides agreed to end the legal battle earlier this month.
“The litigation has been dropped,” Morey said. “Both parties are essentially walking away. No money is changing hands.”
Dahl’s attorney, Daniel Silverman, of the Costello & Mains law firm in Mount Laurel, Burlington County, also confirmed that the litigation is over, but said the terms remain confidential.
“All of the claims between Mr. Dahl and the SJEDD have been mutually resolved,” Silverman said, declining further comment.
Morey said the settlement removes a legal impediment that had prevented construction on the aviation park and also hampered the SJEDD’s role as a development agency for Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties.
“I think that we’re very pleased that the litigation has been terminated,” he said. “It leaves the district in a good position for the future and bodes well for the future of economic development.”
The cash-strapped SJEDD could not complete the aviation project, so Richard Stockton College of New Jersey took control in 2013 in hopes of finally starting construction. The project has since been renamed the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park.
With the Dahl litigation now over, Morey said the SJEDD will be able to concentrate on completing the transfer of a land lease to Stockton that is needed for construction to begin on the proposed site in Egg Harbor Township, next to Atlantic City International Airport.
“I believe it will happen in the first quarter of this year,” Morey said of the lease transfer. “It’s a very complex transaction. It took longer than we would have liked. But all of the key components are lining up.”
The aviation park was conceived in 2005 as a local spinoff of the Federal Aviation Administration’s “NextGen” program to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system. Testing on the NextGen system is being done at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center, the aviation research and development complex next to the Atlantic City airport.
An access road, utility work and signs were built for the aviation park, but most of it remains an empty site off Amelia Earhart Boulevard and Delilah Road. The SJEDD’s board ousted Dahl in April 2012 after learning the district was more than two years behind on audits and had stopped paying the contractors who had done preliminary work on the park’s construction.
Dahl, of Mays Landing, had served as the district’s executive director since 1987. His lawsuit claimed he was wrongfully removed from his job and that the SJEDD had breached his contract by not paying him the rest of his salary when he was fired.
The SJEDD’s suit questioned the legality of a series of pay raises Dahl had given himself, allegedly without the board’s knowledge. A Press of Atlantic City investigative report published in 2012 showed that Dahl’s salary increased from $79,000 in 2005 to $112,000 in 2011 while the district was mired in financial difficulties.