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Condemnation hearing begins for property in path of airport project

Property owners determined not to sell their land to the city of Troy for a proposed airport runway expansion got their day in court Wednesday, but it may be next week before a ruling is made.

Following a day of testimony, Houston County Probate Judge Luke Cooley — who is hearing the case following the recusal of Pike County Probate Judge Bill Stone — said she hopes to make a decision by Monday.

Cooley told property owners she sympathized with their position, but said Alabama law gives little leeway if the proposed project is for public use.

“I’m going to look fairly at both sides, but you are going to to face the reality that Troy needs to grow and somebody will have to sacrifice,” Cooley said.

The City of Troy is seeking to lengthen runway 07 at the municipal airport from 5,000 feet to 6,500 feet, but needs to acquire several parcels of land totaling more than 90 acres.

Only one landowner has agreed to sell so far, and the city is now seeking a condemnation ruling that would force the other landowners to sell as well. The landowners’ attorney, Ben Bowden said his clients remain unwilling to sell their land for the project.

“We don’t want to sell,” Bowden said. “This is not about trying to be in better bargaining position. We are not interested in selling and intend to keep up the fight.”

Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford, who testified during the hearing that the airport is an important economic development tool, said the airport will be for public use.

“Nobody is happy about the condemnation being necessary, but for the progress of the city, it is my opinion that this is necessary,” Lunsford said.

The plans for airport expansion were approved in 2004 by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the project is being partially funded by an FAA airport improvement grant. The FAA has also issued a Finding of No Significant Impact regarding an assessment of the project’s environmental impact.

Alan Thames, an airport planner with the engineering firm Barge, Waggoner, Summer and Cannon which developed the runway expansion plan, testified that corporate jets are the primary users of the Troy airport runways.

With a longer runway, businesses would pay lower insurance premiums on jets using the Troy airport, Thames said, and jets could take off carrying more fuel.

Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and the Sanders companies are among businesses that frequently use the Troy airport, with the Sanders companies being the largest user, Lunsford testified.

Bowden questioned why the city did not lengthen runway 14 when the city already owns about 50 acres at the end of it.

Thames testified that hardware needed for instrument only landings are already installed along runway 07, and it was deemed “not feasible” to move them by an Army Corps of Engineers study.

Lunsford said he initially favored lengthening runway 14.

“When you look at it on the ground, it appears to be more viable … but several homes and businesses would be impacted,” he said.

No structures would be impacted by the expansion of runway 07, Lunsford said.