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Summer trial set for airport eminent domain case

CHESAPEAKE — A jury may be asked last summer next year to determine if the Lawrence County Commission can exercise eminent domain over acreage it wants at the Lawrence County Airpark, if a mediator doesn’t decide the matter beforehand.

But one of the major owners of the property in question says he is “very optimistic” mediation can resolve the matter, just not for the price the county wants to pay and the way the county wants to use the land.

Earlier this year the commissioners filed a petition seeking to acquire 47 acres at either end of the airpark, offering $280,000 for the entire acreage. The property is owned by North Kenova Holdings LLC and North Kenova Development Co. Inc.

At the time Chesapeake attorney Richard Meyers, representing the county commission, said getting the property was a matter of safety.

On Jan. 20, 2011, the county commission passed a resolution stating there was a public need to expand the airport 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.

However, Richard Wilson, whose family owns the North Kenova companies, wants more money than the offer and the elimination of the airport so the land can be developed for commercial use.

“We have engaged certified appraisers and as a result of the information we get back, we can make some kind of an offer,” Wilson said. “One is from Cincinnati and is well-versed in the matters of eminent domain and the other is from West Virginia and is also well-versed.”

The property is part of acreage owned by the Wilson family that at one time included the parcels where the Chesapeake middle and high schools sit. That land was sold to the school district when it wanted to put up new schools. Wilson wants to see comparable development on the acreage where the airport is located.

“The Wilson family has always been very community-minded and by submitting to mediation it is our intention that we should be able to bring this real estate project to an end that would provide commercial and industrial development,” Wilson said. “We don’t see the airport as a viable entity that does anything for Lawrence County.”

Currently the county operates the airport under an agreement that whenever the airport is disbanded, the land reverts back to the Wilson family.

Wilson called putting a price on the property “pretty premature” until the appraisers’ reports are in.

“This is probably one of the most valuable pieces on the Ohio River,” Wilson said. “We are looking at a piece of real estate completely with river frontage and has all of the utilities and is one of the pieces that have never flooded. … This is a very strategic property.”

If the issue cannot be mediated, a trial is scheduled to start on Aug. 12 in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

Calls made to Meyers and Commission President Les Boggs were not returned by press time.