February 27, 2008 Edition

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Efforts to resolve issues with
golf course, runway continue

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

A study group made up of members of the Walnut Ridge City Council, the country club and the airport commission met with Stacy Morris, chief transportation engineer with ETI out of Memphis, on Feb. 20. Morris is the consultant for the airport layout update and met with the group to answer any questions the parties might have.

Morris Polston, Terry Ryan, Michael "Button" Wallin, Frank Wilson, Jack Allison and Mayor Michelle Rogers met to discuss ideas, answer questions and try to come up with some possible solutions to save the Walnut Ridge golf course.

It was discussed that updates to the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport have changed the possibility of the golf course co-existing in such close proximity to the airport. It was also reported that unless the course is moved or cut back to three holes, the airport is subject to losing federal funding for future improvements.

Wallin told the study group that they do not want to do anything that would hinder the progress of the airport. "We want to try to find a solution to make this work for the airport and the golf course if we can," he said.

Morris Polston, speaking on behalf of the country club and as a pilot, told the group that the club cannot afford to build a new golf course, and if they could, if would be two years before one could be ready to play on.

"It takes two years to get a golf course ready," Polston said. "The Walnut Ridge County Club has neither the money nor the land to build one. If the airport shuts us down, we're wiped out. With the timelines we have been given, our members would leave us before a new course could be ready if we could afford to build it."

Different ideas were discussed, such as moving the airport's localizer and changing the C-3 runway back to a B-2. Stacy Morris said the localizer cannot be moved, it belongs to the FAA, and he strongly recommended the airport do nothing that would move it back instead of forward. He recommended the C-3 runway be left as is.

"I'm not here to tell you what to do or how to do it," the engineer said. "I'm here to look at the best interests of the airport."

He also asked if the country club had considered letting the city take it over. Because it is a semi-private organization it is ineligible for Rural Development grant monies.

"The city can't maintain a public golf course financially," Mayor Rogers said. "Many people have offered to assist in moving the golf course and helping in other ways."

But, without land, someone who knows how to actually build a golf course and a plan of action, the golf course's future is up in the air.

During the meeting, Wallin asked Polston and Ryan how long they would need to stay in the same location while a new course was being built. They said that if the means to build one can be found, it would take two years at the least.

"I think you may be able to buy two years time from the FAA if you can show them a plan for the golf course," Wallin said. "The country club will need to come up with a place for the holes."

In addition, Wallin said the airport would need to show clear boundaries of where the course could be located.

Jack Allison and Frank Wilson agreed to take that information to the next airport commission meeting and see if the members would agree to at least a Nov. 1 of this year deadline, which would allow golfers to play this season. They said they will see if the commission will consider giving the golf course two years to reconcile the situation, either by moving holes or building a new course.

Wallin said it is important that whatever is done be done correctly so that the issue will not rise again in the future.

"Everyone involved is doing everything they can possibly do to try to save the golf course and keep the airport progressing," he said.

Note: In last week's issue of The Times Dispatch it was mistakenly reported that the Airport Commission had granted an extension of the country club's deadline. That proposal is expected to be considered at the next commission meeting, but it has not yet been approved.

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