County tries to make hay over dispute

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

CHESAPEAKE — Vernon Collier probably doesn’t remember the very first time his family cut hay from the fields at the Lawrence County Airpark, but he knows he was quite young.

“In 1940 I was six years old and I can remember sitting on my papaw’s lap and he was mowing it with horses,” Collier said proudly.

But Collier’s days cutting hay from the county-leased property may be coming to an end and he is not happy about it.

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Collier said recently another farmer called him and said the Lawrence County Commission had promised the other farmer he could cut the hay on those fields.

Collier said he never was notified of any change and didn’t know about it until the other farmer called him and asked why he was cutting the hay.

Collier said he did talk to Commissioner Jason Stephens privately and then all three commissioners at their June 10 work session trying to get answers.

Commissioners have asked the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office to issue an opinion on how the hay fields should be managed.

In the past, the county received no revenue from the hay field.

Stephens said the matter is a “miscommunication” he hopes can be resolved fairly. He said the other farmer came to talk to the commissioners back in the spring during a Tuesday work session and the commissioners agreed to send a fax to Nelson Whitt, of Attitude Aviation, the business that operates the airpark, explaining that the other farmer had interest in cutting the hayfield.

Whitt said he had tried repeatedly to call Collier but could not reach him.

Commissioner Tanner Heaberlin said this morning he knows little about the matter and had not heard anything about the dispute over the hay until Saturday, June 7, when he attended the Burlington Cleanup Day and the other farmer approached him about it.

“I think we’re making the right decision, though, by asking the prosecutor to issue an opinion,” Heaberlin said.

Commissioner Doug Malone was contacted for comment but was not immediately available. Attempts to contact the other farmer were also unsuccessful.

At Thursday’s commission meeting, a friend of Collier’s, Larry McSweeney, told the commissioners they should leave well enough alone.

“Why do you want to fix something that isn’t broke?” he asked. “You’re going to have a bitter enemy if this thing is changed.”

He said Vernon Collier has taken excellent care of the hay field and has always maintained it well.

“If you’ve got something working good, you ought to think twice about (changing) it,” McSweeney said.

Stephens defended the move as necessary.

“We’re just trying to be sure we’re fair to everyone,” he said.

Collier attended the meeting briefly but did not address the commission.

Contacted later on about the story, Collier said he has talked to a lawyer about his plight and if he is not allowed to cut the hay, he might sue the county.