June 18, 2008 Edition

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Lawsuits filed in golf
course, airport conflict

The close proximity of the runway and fairways has become a legal issue for the Walnut Ridge Airport, the City of Walnut Ridge and the Walnut Ridge Country Club as they seek to protect their interests.
TD Photo ~ John Bland
Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

After 48 years of coexisting peacefully, the Walnut Ridge Golf Club, Inc. (now known as the Walnut Ridge Country Club) and the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport are at odds following the airport commission's move to update and improve the status of the airport.

The club last renewed its lease of the property from the airport in March of 1972. The lease does not expire until 2068.

The Walnut Ridge Golf Club recently retained an attorney to assist in its effort to keep the club's golf course open. Seven of the club's nine holes interfere with the Walnut Ridge Airport's runways and taxiways following the airport's redesignation of Runway 18-36 from B-2 to C-3. The airport commission applied for 139 certification, an upgrade that will allow them to land modern jet aircraft and business and charter planes at the airport.

The golf club was told by the airport commission in a letter dated April 23 that they are in violation of their lease and must remove structures, greens, tees, plants, trees, landscaping, roadways and other obstacles placed on the property that cause the airport to be in non-compliance with mandated runway safety areas or to relocate the course.

The golf club has neither the property nor the money to build a new golf course, according to Terry Ryan, golf club member.

Property offered to the club by the airport is not enough to replace the current golf course, Ryan said, and no workable option has been found.

The Walnut Ridge Airport is due to be inspected by the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics before Oct. 1 of this year.

If the FAA finds an airport is not meeting its obligations, it can impose an administrative action, impose a financial penalty for each day the airport is not in compliance and in extreme cases, the FAA might revoke the airport's certificate or limit the areas of an airport where air carriers can land or take off.

The golf club has filed a lawsuit against the Walnut Ridge Airport Commission and the city of Walnut Ridge to prevent the removal of the holes and other obstructions that interfere with the airport's safety areas. The city owns the airport, but the airport commission is responsible for its maintenance and can make decisions for the airport.

On May 23, a lawsuit was filed by C.W. Knauts of Knauts and Tidwell, attorneys from Paragould, on behalf of the golf club. The suit asks for a permanent injunction to prevent the airport commission from intruding on the club's land and from removing any part of its golf course.

The airport commission and the city of Walnut Ridge have filed a countersuit through their attorney, David W. Cahoon of Cahoon and Smith from Jonesboro.

They have asked the court to dismiss the golf club's permanent injunction petition, and they are asking for an order of ejectment requiring the possession of the leased property be immediately restored to the city and the airport commission in its original pre-leased condition.

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