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Airport property talks ongoing

Airport property talks ongoing

Posted: Friday, December 19, 2008 10:11 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter For a moment, it was quiet as a church mouse and not a word was heard in a small conference room at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport Thursday evening. Dr. Chris Gooch, chairman of the Everett-Stewart Airport Commission, had just announced receipt of a letter from an attorney representing Gail Latimer and Bill Latimer Jr., both of Union City, regarding 65 acres of land owned by the Latimers but needed by the airport to extend its runway 1,500 feet. Gooch began by briefing his fellow commissioners who had gathered at the airport for a regular business meeting. “As you know, we’ve sent Mrs. Latimer, via her attorney, another offer,” he said. Negotiations to purchase the land adjacent to the airport to extend the runway for economic development purposes have been ongoing two years or more. Gooch said the commission’s last offer to the Latimers was: • The commission would pay $100,000 over the appraised value of the land ($380,400). • Mrs. Latimer would keep the farm income off the land that’s tillable until she dies. Gooch then announced in a letter dated Dec. 16, that the Latimers had responded, through Jackson attorney Charles Barnett, to the commission’s offer. Gooch read Barnett’s letter aloud. Assuring the commission that “Bill and Gail” have carefully considered the airport commission’s most recent offer, Barnett said both “respectfully decline the offer.” Then came the Latimers’ counter-offer. “They have authorized me to offer to sell the buildings and the land in question to the airport for the sum of $595,000 cash, plus the rent from the remaining farmable land for the lifetime of Gail Latimer,” Barnett wrote. “Both Latimers are of the opinion that the above consideration is equivalent to the fair cash market value of the property and improvements sought to be acquired. By their estimates and calculations, this is equivalent to $6,000 per acre for the 65.15 acres, plus $255,000 for the improvements.” Barnett closed his letter with an admonition. “This offer is open for acceptance for a period of 30 days from the date of this letter unless otherwise agreed upon in writing,” he stated. Basics Gooch reviewed the basics of the financial figures. Appraised value of the land — $380,400. Appraisal fee — $3,500. Survey fee — $2,000. Total: $385,900. “The Latimers dropped their asking price from $646,000 to $595,000,” he said. “The difference between what the commission offered and what they’re asking is $115,000.” If the commission accepts the Latimer offer, the state will cover 95 percent (of the appraised value), which is $366,600. “Anything over that, up to 110 percent of appraised value, the state will participate 50 percent,” he said. “In other words, the total monies we would get from the state, is $385,625.” Quorum The airport commission is comprised of seven members — four from Obion County, three from Weakley County. Two years ago, Obion and Weakley counties formed a partnership to operate the airport. Airport commissioners present Monday evening were Gooch, David James, Perry Barfield and Mike Holman, all of Obion County; and Wayne McCreight of Weakley County. Absent were Jimmy Westbrook and Shawn Francisco, both of Weakley County. Options For almost an hour, the airport commission discussed the situation, pondering different options about its response to the Latimer offer. There was speculation that banks in the two counties might help with a low-interest loan; however, the commission does not have authority to borrow money. That power rests with the two county commissions. As for any funds from county coffers, Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire said the county would be hard pressed to do much. Gooch said he’s approached local business and industry and private individuals about contributing to the cause. “The one thing they all say is, ‘We will help, but we will not participate if the price is too high,’” he said. And there was even discussion about invoking the principle of eminent domain to resolve the issue. The term, “eminent domain,” refers to the taking of private land for public use. “That’s not a decision this board (commission) would make,” Gooch said. “That’s a decision the county court (Obion County Commission) would have to make if they think the asking price is too exorbitant.” McCreight, who is chief executive officer of Hamilton-Ryker and a former Weakley County commissioner, said eminent domain is something not talked about lightly. “It’s very, very serious,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in anything where I’ve had to make a decision about eminent domain. Everybody (involved) is working in good faith to try to accomplish something. I’m questioning the time that’s involved, whether we have the time to continue. We’ve been working on this two years. Our time is running short. The fire is out and the coals are getting cold. We are running out of time.” A warning Randall Hudgings, a civil engineer with Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon Inc. of Memphis addressed the airport commission Thursday evening. The Memphis firm does consultant work for several airports. He said he’d been contacted by an official at the Aeronautics Division, Tennessee Department of Transportation, about economic stimulus funds that will be made available to small airports by the Federal Aviation Administration. He said he was asked to submit data about airport projects to be considered for a grant. He did so and included the local runway project. Of the several airport projects he named, he got a return call on only one, it being the Everett-Stewart runway project. He said he provided additional data, including construction costs estimated at $4.1 million. “It is federal money made available to the FAA for distribution to airports nationwide,” Hudgings said. “If this money comes through, you have to get your project going in 120 days. Everything is in line to move forward with the runway extension. If there’s money being made available as an economic stimulus package, we want to be prepared to take advantage of it. It’s encouraging that they called back about this project. This one is a good candidate. “These (federal) grants may be 100 percent (meaning there would be no local match).” But the catch is, the airport must first obtain ownership of the land and start construction within 120 days. $8 million Gooch said the $4.1 million runway extension project is only half the story. There are (state plans) for a new road (linking Highway 22 and the airport). “It’s a $4.3 million project. It’s contingent on acquisition of the land, too,” he said. “What it boils down to is an economic stimulus package via new construction in this area of over $8 million. That would be a pretty good shot in the arm for local economy as well as improving the airport as a regional structure to accommodate the largest corporate jets.” What to do? Gooch said the airport commission decided — there was no formal vote — to reply to the Latimer letter and make one last offer. “We are going to make them one other offer, contingent on approval by both county (commissions), and that is, split the difference between what we’ve offered and what they’re asking,” he said. “We’ve asked for an answer by Jan. 2.” And as Barfield noted, the “linchpin” to the whole thing is acquisition of the land. “That’s correct,” Gooch said. “We’ve got to have (ownership of) the land in hand within 120 days, or else none of that will apply. None of the economic stimulus money will apply. They want projects that are ready to go. “We’ve done all the ground work, we’ve crossed a lot of hurdles. We are sitting on the cusp of a major project — over $8 million — and if we fumble it, this opportunity won’t come again for a generation. Somebody else will get it.” Published in The Messenger 12.19.08

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