January 30, 2008 Edition

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Airport votes to get in compliance,
golf course remains open at present

Gretchen Hunt

At a called meeting of the Walnut Ridge Airport Commission, chairman Jack Allison addressed members of the commission about the ongoing issue of the Walnut Ridge Country Club's golf course being too close to one of the airport's runways.

"It's to a point that we've got to do something," Allison said as he called the meeting to order on Thursday.

Commissioners voted during the meeting to take steps to come into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, which will include cutting trees and altering the Country Club's lease. It is anticipated that the change would affect six of the golf course's nine holes.

The meeting was called after the airport was told by the FAA to close the runway in question, a 5,000-foot runway that holds the airport's instrument landing system, until the issue could be resolved.

According to Airport Manager Ken Newcom, he and Stacey Morris an engineer with ETI Corporation, met with Ed Agnew of the FAA on Jan. 17, following a meeting between airport and country club officials.

Morris said that during that meeting Agnew expressed significant concerns with the violations.

"He indicated that because of his concerns with runway incursions and safety, the runway should be NOTAM closed with prior permission needed to operate on the runway until the golf course situation is satisfactorily resolved," Morris stated in a memo that was shared with the commissioners.

Terry Ryan addressed the commission prior to the vote with a final plea on behalf of the country club to find another alternative.

"If y'all choose to do that, you're shutting our country club down," he said.

He stated that he felt the benefits of the golf course, both as a place for youth and retirees to play and as a venue for community fund-raisers, was as important as keeping the runway open.

Dr. Ralph Joseph, who made the motion to come into compliance, said the vote was for the airport, not against the country club.

"Our job is Airport Commission," he said.

Following a second by Milton Smith, the commission voted unanimously to take actions to keep the runway open.

After the vote, Allison again addressed those in attendance stating that he still hopes there can be a future for the country club.

"We need it all," he said. "We need to look at this as an opportunity to make it better."

Golf course remains open

The Walnut Ridge Country Club Board, as well as WRCC members, met following Thursday's vote.

According to Morris Polston, secretary of the board, the country club and golf course are continuing to operate and have no plans at this time to close.

"The golf course has a lease with the city of Walnut Ridge that is valid until the year 2068," Polston said. "There has been no written communication from the city that the city intends to violate this lease."

Polston asserts that the WRCC Board, the Airport Commission and city officials need to continue meeting to determine the best alternative that does the least harm to the community.

"The Walnut Ridge Country Club is a key recreational resource for Walnut Ridge," he said.

"The country club's founding members had the wisdom and vision to see this need 40 years ago and thus our community benefited from the vision of these dedicated individuals."

He pointed out that the golf course is not only for country club members. It is used for fund-raising tournaments for Lawrence Health Services, Williams Baptist College, booster clubs and civic organizations. In addition, it is used for high school golf matches and tournaments.

During the meeting, those present voted unanimously to take whatever steps are necessary to protect and preserve the golf course and country club.

"The Walnut Ridge Country Club has a membership of more than 160 families, contributes a great deal to the local economy and has great potential for future growth," Polston said.

"It seems only logical and prudent that this valuable community asset be preserved and protected."

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