Warren County Memorial Airport is ceasing its negotiations to acquire 6.16 acres from a neighbor and taking flight with eminent domain.
According to airport manager Richard Crawford, negotiation efforts have been underway since 2008 and all avenues have been exhausted including numerous written correspondences, several meetings with the landowner, hiring a professional negotiation firm, and increasing the purchase offer to $47,000.
The information was presented last week to the county's Economic and Agricultural Development Committee members.
Due to the new four lane and access road to it, the land the airport wants to acquire has been cut off from the rest of the property the house sits on. Crawford says it can be used to extend the airport’s runway by 500 feet.
“We need this property to get the runway 500 feet longer,” said Crawford. “Our goal is to try and get larger planes coming in. We sell a lot of fuel. It’s amazing how much fuel that’s sold at Warren County Memorial Airport, which goes back into the general fund. We are about halfway between most of the cities up north and the south, so they usually stop somewhere around here to fuel up. If we can get the longer runway, we can get the larger airplanes. We are losing business to other counties and states.”
Expanding the airport is good for the county’s economic development, says Commissioner Ronnie Lee, who is chairman of the committee.
“In the big picture, this is economic development,” Lee said. “Don (Alexander, IDB director) is out looking for businesses to locate here. He can use it to encourage economic development. We have a great airport. It’s beautiful. Anytime we can expand it, it’s going to help everybody. It’s a positive thing.”
A safety issue also exists on the property with two trees blocking planes as they approach to land at the airport.
“There has been a situation where we have two large trees on this piece of property that are penetrating our approach at night to the runway,” said Crawford. “There have been some concerns with that in the past.”
In October 2013, the airport requested in writing that the property owner remove the trees that are creating the problem. No action was taken and the trees are still there.
In July 2014, airport officials hired a negotiating company named W.D. Schock Inc. The first unaccepted offer was for $37,000. Because the offer was made with a contract aided by Tennessee Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, permission was given by the division to increase the offer by $10,000 in October 2014. The offer of $47,000 wasn’t accepted.
Because the airport receives some funding from county government, the airport requires a resolution from commissioners in support of taking the land by eminent domain, also called condemnation, in order to proceed.
In attendance at the meeting, Commissioner Michael Shane Wilcher asked and received permission from Lee to ask a question. “Is it required that the County Commission get on board with this or is this something the airport can do on its own?”
Lee says the county contributes funds toward the matching grants the airport obtains, usually 5 or 10 percent, and due to this land being obtained by a grant and the county contributing to the matching funds, legal advice is the county support the eminent domain effort.
“The small percentage of money we put into the airport, which is very small, requires us to do this,” Lee said. “Most of the grants the airport gets are 90-10 or 95-5. We do give a little money out there. Our legal team says that even though it’s a small percentage of the money, we have to show support for the condemnation.”
Wilcher replied, “I understand there is no other site available because you have to extend your runway. In this situation, that’s the only option you’ve got. I understand that. Thank you for the information, I appreciate it.”
Lee thanked Wilcher for his question.
A resolution will be presented to the committee for its consideration before being sent to the full Warren County Commission.