February 25, 2009 Edition

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WR Airport grant
funding jeopardized

Walnut Ridge Airport Commissioners Frank Wilson (from left) and Hal Lady, along with Attorney David W. Cahoon and Mayor Michelle Rogers discussed the potential loss of future grant funding for the airport during a special meeting held Monday night at the airport terminal.
TD Photo ~ Gloria Wilkerson

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge Airport Commissioners held a special meeting Monday night to discuss a letter received by Mayor Michelle Rogers from Ed Agnew, manager of the Arkansas/Oklahoma Airports Development Office. Rogers had written to Agnew asking about the consequences to the airport's next capital project if an agreement between the airport and the Walnut Ridge Golf Club can't be reached soon.

Commission Chairman Dan Coker read the letter aloud to the board. The letter reads: 'Fundamentally, if the city is unsuccessful in complying with object clearing criteria within the Federal Airport Design standards, this office will not be in a position to process your upcoming grant application for runway markings, signage and lighting for the fiscal year 2009. This is primarily due to the agency's responsibility under agency Order 5200.8, Paragraph 9b, requiring a satisfactory runway safety area determination prior to making an additional investment of Airport Improvement Program funds on the prescribed runway.

'Please understand this position coincides with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection and report dated Oct. 26, 2006, and the recent FAA Form 5010 inspection and report conducted by the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics in August 2008.'

"This letter is what we have all feared and knew would happen," David Cahoon, attorney for the airport commission and the city, said. "Until the runway obstructions are removed, the airport will receive no federal funding."

The government has invested $8 million in the airport during recent years, according to the commissioners.

"We just lost $700,000 over the next four years," said commissioner Frank Wilson, speaking of grants the commission has been working on for the airport and for a building they hoped to build to house a business at the airport.

Coker told the commissioners that the airport stands to lose grant money in the amount of $270,000 in 2009, $300,000 in 2011, $150,000 in 2012 and $150,000 in 2013 if the safety violations are not removed.

Cahoon added that the legislature has just committed $4 million for the state of Arkansas, and the airport will miss out on that, too.

"Negotiations are at a standstill," he said. "We are unable to go any further until we go to court." Rogers told the commissioners that C.W. Knauts of Piggott, attorney for the golf club, said that he can't see the matter settled out of court. The case has been delayed while Knauts underwent surgery and recuperated. He is now well enough to go to trial.

Cahoon said that he will write to Knauts and suggest they approach the judge to see if he can set an expedient trial date.

He also said the trees on the east side of the runway are the worst obstruction right now, and wondered if the golf club would give permission to cut them down, which would show good faith to the FAA that everyone is trying to resolve the problem.

Terry Ryan, spokesman for the golf club, said he can meet with their board and ask about removing the trees, but he couldn't speak for them without a meeting.

Golf club representatives say they believe they have not violated their lease with the airport, and that there are other ways to coexist with the airport. They also say their club is losing money, too, because members don't want to join when they aren't sure the club is going to continue to exist.

Representatives from the golf club were invited to attend the meeting. "We want the golf club to see where we stand," Wilson said of the need to resolve the issue. "The FAA is requiring this, not the airport commission."

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