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Henderson: Money thrown away in Tampa-Brooksville airport flap

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Published:   |   Updated: March 8, 2013 at 09:54 AM

I have spent a lot of time in airports. You name a major airport in this country and the odds are good I have been there. You can lump in a lot of the smaller ones, too. And never once has anyone asked, “Hey, how close is Brooksville to Tampa?”

Brooksville is a lovely little place with gentle rolling hills and lots of peace and quiet. I can see why people want to go there.

It is quaint, it is tranquil – it is basically everything Tampa is not.

It also is nearly 50 miles from Tampa and surrounded by lots of green uncluttered space. At least it was uncluttered until lawyers from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority started dropping legal briefs all over and showed folks just how easy it is to squander $75,000 on a nonsense issue.

It is all because of a name: Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport.

That prompted the aviation authority to file a federal lawsuit against Hernando County, demanding that this outrage be corrected! I mean, you never know when someone from London or Paris might want to jet to Tampa for the weekend and wind up at the Hernando County Fair by mistake.

Fun fact: About 17 million passengers pass through Tampa International Airport in a given year. And the number of commercial flights into Brooksville?

Well, uh, zero.

The number of commercial flights contemplated into Brooksville?

Well, uh, zero.

That didn’t stop the authority from redefining the meaning of “nuisance lawsuit” before arriving at a settlement that is the mother of all split hairs: Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. That’s the new name of the airport.

According to the settlement agreement (which contains a laughable clause that states this is in the spirit of governmental cooperation and regional partnership), the new airport name must always be used on a single line of type.

If they feel the need to shorten the name, they have to refer to it as Brooksville Airport. This counts in “answering telephones or engaging in other oral communications.”

And the republic celebrated the end of confusion.

Look, I know trademarks are important, and the battle for air and tourism dollars is fierce. But can anyone at the aviation authority keep a straight face while making the argument that this battle was worth 75 cents, let alone $75,000 in legal fees and other costs?

Michael McHugh, the Hernando manager of business development, wryly noted in a deposition, “I am aware of no instance in which any business or vendor … was ever confused by the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport name into believing that there was some connection …” to good ol’ Tampa International.

Look, I am a huge fan of Tampa’s airport. I applaud efforts to expand international service, even if it takes some financial enticements to do so. It’s not like they don’t have the money. These guys just blew 75 grand to use a flamethrower on a mosquito.

Public agencies should be especially sensitive to any suggestion of wasted money, given the nonsense going on in Washington just now. At least they could learn how to be a good neighbor, since they blew it so badly this time.

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