County facing penalty on eminent domain

Published 9:28 am Friday, July 18, 2014

CHESAPEAKE — The almost half-million dollars Lawrence County agreed to pay to gain acreage at the county airpark is costing more and more each day.

That’s because on June 26, the court ordered that interest of 8 percent per year on the unpaid judgment be assessed with the clock starting to tick on April 28, the date the judgment went into effect.

That judgment stated the county was to pay $490,000 to the Wilson family for land they owned at either end of the runways. The county wanted to acquire the land to clear away trees and other hazards that were causing unsafe conditions.

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In January of 2012, the county filed an eminent domain lawsuit against the Wilsons to acquire that property. In the fall of 2013, a price of $490,000 was negotiated with both sides in agreement. Ninety percent of that will come from the Federal Aviation Administration but the county has to come up with $49,000 or a 10 percent match.

The delay in paying the Wilsons is because of the FAA involvement, Commission President Les Boggs said.

“After we made the settlement agreement, the FAA said you have to do this and this and this,” Boggs said. “We are going through the bureaucracy of standards and qualifications. We as commissioners would have loved to give the Wilsons that money back when we made the settlement. But the FAA has to approve that. The government moves at the speed of bureaucracy. There are hoops you have to jump through. I expect them to approve that money in the next 60 days.”

The county’s airport advisory board wants to put assessments on those using the hangars at the airpark with the goal of coming up with the 10 percent match. The commission was to consider approving those assessments at its Thursday meeting. However, Boggs asked that the commissioners review it this week and make a decision at its July 24 meeting.

“We hope to be able to do it on our own,” Bill Nenni of the advisory board said. “I think we will be able to do it on our own.”

When told that the county was being penalized on the unpaid judgment, Nenni said he had no control over that.

“The FAA is aware of it,” Nenni said. “That is beyond our control.”

The interest assessment followed a motion filed by Richard Glazer, attorney for the Wilsons, saying the judgment was to be paid “forthwith,” and asked that a 10 percent interest penalty be leveled. Glazer also asked that attorney bills of $6,987.50 be paid by the county for 21.5 hours spent on the lawsuit at $325 an hour.

Common Pleas Judge Charles Cooper ordered an itemization be submitted for those attorney bills.

Vocal opponent of the airpark is Commissioner Bill Pratt, who has always wanted to see the property developed commercially, even suggesting it could be the site of such big box chains as Home Depot.

“This is another example of why Lawrence County doesn’t benefit from having an airport,” Pratt said. “My opinion has been from the beginning that we should develop that property to make gains for Lawrence County. It is my opinion it is still that way.”

As far as the county meeting the match, “the money is not there to appropriate,” he said.