The question of eminent domain

Airport Authority had option in Owens land deal
Jun. 30, 2013 @ 09:27 AM

Lingering questions remain over the sale of a 10-acre tract belonging to Rutherford County Commission Chairman Julius Owens to the Rutherford County Airport Authority for $300,000.

The sale was spurred by a tree on the property — located at 154 Goshen Road — that impede a federally-required glide slope ratio for aircraft landing on the runway at the airport.

The Airport Authority entered into an agreement Monday to purchase the land and buildings for $300,000 despite the fact the property was independently appraised at $168,000.

Additionally, according to county tax documents, the land and buildings held a tax value of $108,400.

The main question is why did the Airport Authority purchase the property rather than institute eminent domain and condemn the property in order to remove the trees in question?

Airport Authority Chairman Bob Howard said the answer is simple.

"If you start using that to take people's land and making people mad, that is a good way to do it," Howard said. "If this had not come to fruition I would not have hesitated to use condemnation … not one second."

Robert Ralph, member of the Airport Authority, said the issue of condemnation is sticky and he was hesitant about entering into a battle over eminent domain.

"When you are looking at it from the county's perspective, we overpaid for that property by $13,000 in county money," Ralph said. "I don't know what the legal costs would have been to get it condemned but it probably would have been more than $13,000."

In 2010, a tentative agreement was reached between Owens and the Airport Authority to execute a Clear Zone and Adjacent Transition Easement allowing the Authority to remove the trees and keep the property under the ownership of Owens.

The agreement would have given Owens $12,000 for the easement however a final agreement was never enacted or signed prior to Sept. 2, 2010. Owens contends he was never presented a final agreement to sign.

Alan Guffey, Airport Authority chairman at the time of the tentative agreement, said the initial document was not legal and could not be enforced according to legal counsel.

"You always talk about kicking the can down the road and this is a situation where both parties walked away from the entire can," Howard said. "Once they had the accord, the Airport Authority should have stuck to it."

After the installation of new members to the Airport Authority in 2011 — which was approved by Owens as a member of the County Commission and included Howard — the agreement was never discussed in open session by the Airport Authority.

Howard said that since the agreement wasn't legal in the first place, it was not an option. He said the Airport Authority was already "down the road" with another option for the property leading to the sale approved Monday night.

"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."

Owens continued to defend the sale price of the property by saying he was "fixing to walk away" from his home and property he has been on since 1958.