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Development put on ‘back burner’

FAA says property must remain an airport


The Lawrence County Commission is holding off on its plans to try to market the Lawrence County Airport for commercial development.

The decision came after the Federal Aviation Administration reiterated that since the county took federal dollars to develop an airport plan the property must remain an airport.

“I won’t say it is a dead issue, but we will put it on the back burner,” Commission President Bill Pratt said.

At its regular Thursday commission meeting, Pratt gave details of a conference call he had that morning with FAA officials.

“We want to think big and improve our county,” he said. “We’ve seen Ashland and Huntington bypass Lawrence County. Rather than sit here and transfer money and pass a few grants, we want Lawrence County to be a better place for its residents to live.”

Pratt’s approach to that was to see if the airport property on the Ohio River in Chesapeake could be developed commercially, possibly as an upscale shopping complex.

Sharing Pratt’s view has been Richard Wilson, a member of the family that deeded the property in the 1930s to the county to be used exclusively as an airport. Should the county cease to operate the land as an airport, the acreage would revert back to the Wilson family, according to the deed.

At the same time as Pratt has pursued his idea of a development, the county has been involved in an eminent domain lawsuit to acquire the remaining acreage at the site that belongs to the Wilson family. Safety issues have prompted that lawsuit as the FAA wanted runways extended and trees on either end of the runways removed.

The county has appraised that land at $280,000 while Wilson’s appraisers say the property is worth $1.8 million.

The FAA told Pratt that the county did have $450,000 in grant money that could be used to compensate the Wilson family for the land. But that it was not immediately available and that the FFA would have to reimburse the county after it paid the Wilsons upfront.

“Part of the push (for a development) comes from who benefits from the airport,” Pratt said. “There are economic benefits. I don’t agree with the larger economic benefits. There is only one business that benefits from keeping the airport open. That is sales of fuel.”

Speaking in favor of the airport was Marie Phillips, a member of the pilots association and one of the owners of Attitude Aviation, manager of the airport.

She presented the commission with petitions with 191 signatures from residents from West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky who attended the recent Community Fly-In at the airport.

With the commissioners sidestepping the development ideas, Pratt said they have to decide if they want to move forward with a proposed lighting project at the airport for which the FAA would provide grant money with the county taking care of a 10-percent match.

Pratt has said the pilots association should provide that match, which Phillips said it would.

“We have done our job as commissioners, inviting economic development for Lawrence County, ” Pratt said after the meeting. “I think it is the commissioners’ responsibility to explore all opportunities to make Lawrence County a better place to live. If we only did what was required of us, it is not doing the residents a good service.”