October 08, 2008 Edition

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Additional claims filed
in ongoing court case

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Still unable to come to an agreement in the dispute between the Walnut Ridge Golf Club and the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport, attorneys for both parties have filed additional claims in the Lawrence County Circuit Clerk's office. The ongoing dispute has been caused by the golf course's close proximity to the airport.

David Cahoon, attorney for the city and the airport commission, filed an amended counterclaim against the golf club on Sept. 30.

The claim notified the golf club they had five working days to return possession of the land the golf course is located on to the city or to file a written objection to the claim. If the club had failed to do so, a writ of possession would have been issued to the Lawrence County Sheriff ordering him to remove the club from the property.

The amended claim asserts that the lease signed in 1972 between the airport and the golf club is invalid because written consent to lease the property to the club was not given to the city or the airport commission by the Civil Aeronautics Administrator.

Although the CAA no longer exists, Cahoon asserts that the property the city took possession of from the federal government could not be leased without CAA approval. The golf course abuts the airport's runway in places and has golf carts, tees and paths near the airport's runways that the commission states have caused the airport to be in non-compliance with mandated runway safety areas.

"The airport and the property around it are held in trust by the city for the federal government," Cahoon said. "The city and the airport commissioners are bound by law to protect, maintain and improve the airport."

The amended counterclaim states the airport is willing to give the golf club a lease for 78 acres east of the present golf course, but cannot legally give them money to build a new course. The cost of a new golf course has been estimated at $500,000 to $1.5 million.

An answer and objection was filed by the golf club's attorney, C.W. Knauts of Piggott, on Oct. 3.

The objection denies that their leases of 1972 and 1975 are void because the airport commission and/or the city failed to obtain permission from the CAA. It goes on to say they believe that CAA authority was obtained or has been waived.

The document states that because the CAA did not exist at the time the leases were signed and no longer exists, the CAA (now FAA) have fully ratified and condoned all actions of the commission by never making any objection or complaint for over 36 years while making multiple inspections of the airport and having full knowledge of the existence of the Walnut Ridge Golf Club and its presence in relation to the airport.

The claim also states that the golf course itself was not built by the golf club, but was in fact built prior to 1960 by the United States Government adjacent to the airport for recreational purposes.

It continues, "The blame for the lack of authority lies solely with the City of Walnut Ridge, its mayor and its airport commission or other elected officials and no allegation that anyone privy to the Walnut Ridge Golf Club is responsible for seeking authority from the CAA."

The golf club's claim also states that the commission and the city intend to dispossess the golf club of all the landed assets to which they have been in possession of and spent money improving over the last 36 years or longer without one dime being tendered to assist them in replacing their facility.

Knauts has asked for a merit hearing in front of a jury to settle the latest action taken by the city and the commission.

"We will go before a judge who will act on these filings," said Terry Ryan, representative for the golf club. "No court date has been set on these latest actions by the attorneys that I know of right now. It's possible the judge may take these up on Oct. 29 when we're due to be in court again about the original complaint."

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