Judge rules for airport

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 23, 2008

Property in the path of a proposed runway expansion at the Troy Municipal Airport was ordered condemned Thursday by a probate judge.

The order by Houston County Probate Judge Luke Cooley, who heard the case after the recusal of Pike County Probate Judge Bill Stone, will force the sale of the land despite the opposition of the landowners.

Ben Bowden, attorney for the property owners, said the judge’s ruling did not come as a sunrise.

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“Judge Cooley indicated during the hearing that she was leaning toward condemnation,” Bowden said. “We are disappointed but we intend to continue to pursue our rights in this process.”

Cooley heard testimony in the case at an Oct. 15 hearing at Pike County Courthouse, and toured the property in question the next day with the landowners and city officials.

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 five parcels of land totaling more than 90 acres.

Prior to the ruling, only one landowner had agreed to sell. Now, the court will appoint commissioners to assess the damages and compensation the landowners are entitled to.

Cooley’s ruling names Pike County residents John Mark Green, Jerry Dell and Kenneth Walls, III as the commissioners.

Residents near the airport wanted the city to expand runway 14 instead, because expanding runway 07 will bring it closer to Oak Grove Untied Methodist Church and will destroy area wetlands.

But 18 parcels of land, including several homes and two businesses would have to be taken if the alternate runway were expanded, Cooley noted in the ruling.

Even thought the land taken by the project is beautiful, “it must be weighed against the multiple studies that have been completed by the city to determine which runway is most practical, safe and economically advisable,” Cooley wrote.

The plans for the 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.

Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford said the city is ready to move forward with airport project. “We are pleased that this part of the process has been completed,” Lunfsord said.