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Two sides way apart on value of property

A more than $1.5 million difference in two appraisals of some acreage at the Lawrence County Airport is another reason at least one Lawrence County Commissioner wants to come up with an agreement that could end an impending lawsuit and put the land up for sale.

On Thursday all three commissioners will meet with Richard Wilson and his attorney to resolve an eminent domain lawsuit the commission filed more than a year ago against Wilson. Through that lawsuit the commissioners want to acquire 47 acres at either end of the Chesapeake airport, currently owned by Wilson and his family.

Recently an appraiser for the Wilson family said the 47 acres is worth $1.8 million. But the county’s appraiser has put the value of the property at $280,000.

“What if we go to court and they say you have to pay $1 million,” Commission President Bill Pratt said. “The county doesn’t have a $1 million.”

Adding the acreage to the airport was to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations to provide an adequate approach to the air strips including trimming or removing trees at the ends of the runways.

However since then Bill Pratt has actively sought to find an avenue that would allow the county to develop the entire airport property commercially, which has long been the goal of Wilson.

To do that the commission and the Wilson family have to come to a financial arrangement that would enable the county to agree to stop using the land as an airport.

In the late 1930s members of the Wilson and C.L. Ritter families deeded land to the county for the creation of an airport with the stipulation that the land could only be used as such. Should the county shut down the airport for a period of one year, the property would revert back to the heirs of the original conveyors.

However Commissioner Les Boggs is approaching the meeting with a different intent.

“My focus as commissioner is not to go up there with the distinct purpose of trying to sell the airport,” Boggs said. “Mine is to try to resolve issues that are currently in hand with the lawsuit and also to look at what would be best suited for the future of the airport, not necessarily with the focus of selling it.”

But Pratt sees a shopping venue on the site as a way to improve the finances of the county and increase jobs and strengthen the local economy.

“We are trying to make something happen,” Pratt said.