Commission goes to court over airpark

Published 10:38 am Thursday, February 16, 2012



CHESAPEAKE — The fate of property adjacent to the Lawrence County Airpark may be decided in court.

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Recently the Lawrence County Commissioners filed a petition in common pleas court to acquire through eminent domain 47 acres contiguous to the current boundaries of the airpark.

“It is a safety issue,” said Chesapeake attorney Richard Meyers, who filed the petition for the commissioners. “We have been working on it for a long time. Getting it surveyed took a long time.”

Smaller parcels around the airpark have already been acquired through negotiations with their owners.

On Jan. 20, 2011, the commission passed a resolution stating there was a public need to expand the airpark to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

“(Those requirements were for) runway safety areas, air space removal, approach surface penetration, the land and air scale regulations as identified in the Lawrence County Cemetery Study (July 2002), the Runway Safety Area Study of Airport 2004 and the Airport Master Plan update of March 2005,” the resolution stated.

The property sought is owned by North Kenova Holdings, LLC, and North Kenova Development Co. Inc., companies owned by members of the Wilson family. The Wilson family provided the land to the county for the airpark decades ago through a reversion lease. The land must be used as a county airpark or the acreage reverts back to the Wilson family.

“(Acquiring the land) is a grant from (the FAA),” Meyers said. “The Wilsons have not responded to me. We had to go through this formal procedure.”

The property sought through the petition and the airpark acreage have been issues between the commissioners and the Wilson family for several years.

During a commission meeting in 2008, then Commission President Jason Stephens criticized Richard Wilson for not cutting down trees at the end of the runway that Stephens said created a hazard for pilots flying in and out of the airpark.

At that time Wilson disputed Stephens’ claim, calling it bogus, and faulted the county for allowing the Eastern Lawrence County Youth Soccer League to use the airpark. That use was dangerous for the children and violated the terms of the lease, he said.

The soccer league has since moved to a site at the Ohio University Southern-Proctorville Campus.

“The league has grown so much and we moved to a better location,” Stephens said. “But the county owns the property where the airport is.”

The commissioners are offering $280,000 for the acreage petitioned.

“That is obviously not fair,” Wilson said. “I really don’t have a figure but anyone who knows anything about 47 acres on the Ohio River strategically located, it is totally ridiculous. It is one of the best pieces of real estate on the Ohio River. It has never flooded and you are telling me it is worth $280,000. Eminent domain is certainly a misuse of government powers in this situation and should be looked into by every citizen of Lawrence County. It is just another government acquisition of private property.”