Airport tree issue had resolution in 2010

Jun. 27, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

The issue surrounding the purchase of land adjacent to the Rutherford County Airport could have been resolved in 2010.

According to documents obtained by The Daily Courier Wednesday, a tentative agreement between the Rutherford County Airport Authority and Julius Owens — now Rutherford County Commission Chairman — was signed in 2010 allowing the Authority to cut down a pair of trees impeding the glide slope of approaching aircraft to the airport's runway. The agreement would have cost the Airport Authority $12,000.

The Airport Authority agreed Monday night to purchase the land and buildings on the property owned by Owens since 1958 for $300,000.

The trees have been a point of contention since 1981 when it was discovered they interfere with the federally-mandated glide slope ratio requirement for the airport.

The document, signed on Aug. 26, 2010 by then-Airport Authority Chairman Alan Guffey, Owens, Owens' wife and their respective attorneys, indicated a "more formal document" would be agreed upon on or before Sept. 2, 2010.

However, that formal agreement was never signed, nor was the tentative agreement enforced.

"The lawyers said it was not a legal document and we could not enforce it as it stood," Guffey said in an interview Wednesday. "That was a draft agreement."

The agreement came prior to a meeting of the Rutherford County Airport Appeals Board which was going to hear an appeal brought by Owens asking for a decision on a notice received informing him the trees needed to be removed.

Owens said he never received the formal agreement indicated on the consent allowing the Clear Zone and Adjacent Transition Easement.

"Nobody followed back up with me on anything," Owens said Wednesday. "I didn't receive anything else and I assumed it was a dead issue."

According to current Airport Authority Chairman Bob Howard, the agreement was never brought up even after he became chairman in 2011.

"I didn't think about it because, at that time, the Division of Aviation came back and said they wanted it done," Howard said. "It never really crossed my mind to look into the agreement."

He added that attempting to enforce the agreement would involve lengthy litigation and "we were already down another path."

Even before 2010, Guffey said overtures were made by the Airport Authority to pay Owens to cut down the trees.

"We offered him to pay to cut down the trees two years before the meeting," Guffey said. "We offered $10,000 in an open meeting to top those trees and I even arranged an arborist to do the work to ensure the least amount of damage to his property."

But, he said that option was rebuffed.

During the meeting which resulted in the tentative agreement, Guffey said there were still options on the table regarding the trees.

"Topping was an option for a very long time," Guffey said. "We didn't offer to buy the property but we would have."

The current tax value of the land and its buildings, according to county documents, was set at $108,400 and an independent appraiser hired by the Airport Authority prior to the sale valued the land and buildings at $168,000.

The deal struck Monday had to be completed this week or else the airport would lose approximately $150,000 in federal funding because it was not in compliance with federal regulations, according to Howard.

Owens defended the sale and the price by saying he wasn't just selling a piece of property.

"I sold my home, my barn and everything I have for $300,000," Owens said. "That purchase price included everything I've worked for for 39 years … I'm fixing to walk away from that."