January 23, 2008 Edition

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Airport, Country Club officials
meet to discuss land problem



Airport Commission member Frank Wilson (left) and Walnut Ridge Country Club representative Terry Ryan discuss a possible solution to the golf course being located too close to one of the airport's runways.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt
Gretchen Hunt
Editor

John Knight, director of the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics, was in Walnut Ridge on Jan. 16 to meet with representatives of the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport and the Walnut Ridge Country Club.

The two entities have been trying to find a way to resolve the issue of the golf course being located too close to one of the airport's runways.

A new airport layout plan that has been completed and submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as the airport's seeking a 139 designation to land larger passenger aircraft, has brought the issue to the forefront.

While the golf course and the airport have co-existed without problems for years, Knight said now that the FAA is aware of the infringement, something will have to be done to avoid negative ramifications for the airport.

Knight stressed that while he was happy to attend the meeting and offer some guidance, the solution needed to be found locally.

"Normally when you have a situation like this, it's an outside landowner fighting with a city- or county-owned airport," Knight said. "This is an internal problem. The city owns the airport, and the city owns the ground that the golf course is on. I'm not here to make a decision for you, it's got to be made locally."

Knight said neither the state aeronautics department nor the FAA is going to come in and say the golf course must be closed or moved. Instead, they will make adjustments such as raising the minimum height for visibility in which a pilot can land and possibly revoking funding to the airport.

Terry Ryan, who spoke on behalf of the country club, said its members simply want to be able to continue to play golf, but they obviously do not want to see the airport suffer.

"We're all community minded ~ we want the community to grow," Ryan said. "We're willing to do anything within reason."

He said a suggestion to relocate holes on a stretch of airport property requires holes to be located too closely together, causing a hazard for players. They have also considered purchasing additional land adjoining the club, but have not been successful in finding a seller.

"The golf course and country club have done everything we could possibly do to help resolve the problem," he said. "We're willing to work with the airport, but it needs to be an acceptable option that we can work with. "

While the easiest solution would be to relocate the entire country club, it would be way beyond the club's financial ability, according to Ryan.

Knight encouraged Airport Director Ken Newcom, the airport commission, city officials and country club representatives to continue working on the problem.

The airport is scheduled to be inspected this year, according to Knight, and the proximity of the golf course to the runway will be an issue.

"Our number one priority is safety," he said. "It's real unusual to have any kind of a public gathering place that close to a runway."

Knight said the inspection must be completed by Oct. 1, which gives local officials somewhat of a deadline.

"We have no other choice but to address it," Newcom said.

Benson Hart of Walnut Ridge, who has been a longtime supporter of the airport and country club and served as city clerk for more than 40 years, said he can see both sides of the issue.

"We're a small community here trying to survive and help each other," he said. "The airport is a lot more of an asset than a lot of folks realize, and the Walnut Ridge golf course also is a lot bigger asset than some people realize. Somehow, surely we can co-exit."

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