Advisory chair questions Pratt about airport plansPublished 11:18am Friday, August 16, 2013
If Lawrence County has to borrow money to pay for the settlement of an ongoing eminent domain lawsuit at the Lawrence County Airport, it will do it without the vote of Commission President Bill Pratt.
For about 30 minutes at the Thursday county commission meeting, Bill Nenni, chair of the county’s airport advisory board, questioned Pratt about the county’s intentions toward the airport, in particular the status of a proposed lighting project and funding for acreage the county is currently seeking through eminent domain at the airport.
The land is sought to meet safety directives from the Federal Aviation Administration including cutting trees at the end of the runways. The county’s appraiser has valued the land at $280,000 while the owners, the Wilson family, say it is worth $1.8 million.
Pratt has publicly expressed concern that, if the court would declare the value of the property closer to the Wilson’s appraisal, the county would have difficulty covering that cost. The commission president has also been a long advocate of shutting down the airport to market the land for commercial development.
According to Nenni, if certain FAA procedures are followed in eminent domain lawsuits, the agency can provide up to $450,000 to pay for acquiring the property.
Nenni asked if the price were above that, would the county borrow the remainder of the funds needed.
“I don’t intend to vote to borrow money to settle the eminent domain,” Pratt said.
Nenni questioned if Chesapeake attorney Richard Meyers, who represents the county in the lawsuit, was aware of these FAA requirements.
“Mr Meyers is a very capable attorney,” Pratt said. “He has done a lot of eminent domain lawsuits in the past.”
Commissioner Les Boggs suggested the commission write a letter to Meyers detailing the FAA regulations.
“If there were steps to follow, it would be a horrible thing if the steps were not followed and we would not be eligible for anything,” Boggs said.
If the county didn’t borrow the funding, the airport could not cover that cost with its $30,000 a year budget, Nenni said.
“I don’t see any reason we have to be treated any different than other offices,” Nenni said. “None of the other offices owned real estate and yet we are expected to pay for real estate.”
Nenni also questioned Pratt about the commissioner recently joining the board of the Huntington-Tri-State Airport. At the time he joined, Pratt said that it would give Lawrence County another voice in Tri-State development.
“How much does it cost Lawrence County to have a member on the Huntington airport board?” he asked.
Pratt said the annual fee was $5,000
“We are going to spend $5,000 on the Huntington Airport and not a nickel on our own,” Nenni said.
“That’s up to these two gentlemen over here (referring to Boggs and Commissioner Freddie Hayes)” Pratt said.
Nenni also expressed concern about the possibility of losing FAA grant money to install radio-activated lights at the airport runways to allow night flying. The county can get $25,500 to pay for the project.
Pratt has wanted the Tri-State Pilots Association to pick up the 10 percent match, which Nenni said it had available.
As far as moving forward on the project, the commission did not take any action on Thursday.