Airport land deal finalized

Published 1:28 pm Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Paying for the almost 10 acres acquired through an eminent domain lawsuit at the Lawrence County Airpark could cost the county approximately $30,000 out of the general fund.

That is the calculation of Lawrence County Commission President Les Boggs, who made a motion to go through with the land acquisition at Tuesday’s county commission work session. Boggs and Commissioner Freddie Hayes approved the action. Commissioner Bill Pratt was not at that portion of the work session when the airport was discussed.

“For $170,000 we get zero and for $65,000 we get $1 million worth of work,” Boggs said.

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Through negotiations with the Wilson family, owners of the property, the county acquired five acres on one end of the airport and an easement through five acres on the other side. For that the Wilsons were to be paid $495,000. About two years ago the county, through Chesapeake attorney Richard Meyers, filed the eminent domain suit to get the property so trees at either end of the runway that were deemed a safety hazard could be removed.

On top of the sale price is approximately $40,000 in attorney fees for the county’s representation in the suit, plus survey fees. Total cost for property, fees and removing the trees is expected to come in at $650,000. The county is required to cover a local match of 10 percent or approximately $65,000.

Boggs anticipates using $20,000 in the airport fund with the Tri-State Pilots Association contributing approximately $15,000. The remainder would come out of the general fund, he said. Currently there is a cash balance of $15,573 in the airport fund, according to the auditor’s office.

However, if the county had decided not to go ahead with the acquisition, the cost would have gone up to $170,000, because the county would have had to pay for the attorney fees for both parties or a total of $90,000, plus additional fees including cost for the arbitration and surveying.

The Federal Administration Aviation required a decision by the county by this morning. The county is also following through with a proposed lighting project on the new runway footprint, which is expected to cost an additional $300,000. Again the county’s portion could be a match of 10 percent. If the pilot association is self-sufficient as is its goal by the end of 2014, it would pick up that match, Boggs said. That would happen in 2015.

The 90 percent cost of the land acquisition, tree removal, fees and the lighting project will come from the fund set up for receipt of the FAA’s annual $150,000 in grants. The county can stockpile $600,000 of that, plus borrow on next year’s expected grant of another $150,000.

During the work session former Fayette Township Trustee Mike Finley questioned the commissioners’ decision to go through with the projects saying it would put the county in debt for $1 million. Should the airport ever close, the question has arisen what the county’s obligation would be to the FAA to pay back past grants.

“As a commissioner I know we are not going into debt for $1 million,” Boggs said.

“You are not doing what’s right for Lawrence County. This will be brought up in two years,” Finley said, referring to Boggs’ commission seat being up in 2016.

“Your threats don’t bother me,” Boggs said.

“I don’t threaten,” Finley said. “It is not right to go into $1 million in debt.”

Boggs calls the FAA money grant money.

“That grant money is going somewhere,” Boggs said. “That is taxpayers’ money we’re bringing back to our county.”