Judge expected to dismiss suit over airport contract

Charleston International Airport is preparing to undergo a $150 million makeover and expansion. The changes include a new rooftop dome that will replace the ceiling squares in the main foyer. (Leroy Burnell/postandcourier.com/File)

A lawsuit that could have disrupted the planned $150 million overhaul of Charleston International Airport will be dismissed soon, just in time for the start of the project.

Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald is expected to sign an order within days and throw out a complaint filed by runner-up bidder Holder Construction Co. and its local partners.

The key factor in her decision was that two of the four firms that were working with Atlanta-based Holder did not want to challenge the way the construction managament contract was awarded, said Charleston County Aviation Authority attorney Arnold Goodstein.

The judge heard arguments Tuesday from the Aviation Authority, which owns the airport, and winning bidder Austin Commercial LP of Dallas and its local partner, Hitt Contracting Inc.

They requested that the lawsuit be dismissed because the Holder team no longer functioned as a joint venture.

“When someone from the joint venture withdraws from the joint venture, then it’s no longer a joint venture,” Goodstein said.

McDonald ruled from the bench that Holder had no standing, he said.

Holder attorney Nick Nicholson said he didn’t want to comment until the order is finalized.

The Holder venture originally included Mashburn Construction Co., CCCS International and Cumming Corp. In early June, the group protested the bid award, saying, among other things, it was the higher-ranked bidder, It also alleged that a former Aviation Authority board member’s business ties to the Austin-Hitt team tainted the selection process.

Cumming and CCCS later said they wanted no part of the protest.

A three-member panel of airport board members ruled in July that Holder’s objections were “unsupported by facts or law.” The comany took its case to state court in August.

The airport planned to go forward with the makeover of its aging main passenger terminal, even if legal wrangling continued, Goodstein said.

Now, construction can proceed without a cloud over it, Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse said.

“I never thought the protest had any merit to start with,” Limehouse said.

The Aviation Authority will break ground for a new rental car pavilion at noon Thursday outside the baggage claim area. It is the first phase of the multi-stage makeover.

Last year the airport saw a 30 percent jump in passenger traffic as 2.5 million people passed through the airport. That number is expected to double by 2030.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.