June 3, 2009 Edition

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Judge issues decision
in golf club, airport case

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge Golf Club, Inc., Walnut Ridge Airport commissioners and the city of Walnut Ridge received a long-awaited decision from Circuit Court Judge Harold Erwin on Monday morning concerning the fate of the golf club.

After months of debating the issue of the Golf Club causing the airport to be out of compliance with FAA safety regulations, Judge Erwin granted the airport and city's motion for summary judgment. He dismissed the golf club's petition for permanent injunction, which would have allowed the club to remain in the same location it has occupied since 1972.

The decision says there are no material facts in this case for the court to decide, and the leases between the city of Walnut Ridge and its commissioners and the Walnut Ridge Golf Club, Inc., have been breached. The court holds the leases are terminated and possession of the property should be returned to the city for the purpose of keeping the airport and its aerial approaches in a safe and serviceable condition and to maintain the airport property in accordance with the minimum standards as required by the FAA.

The golf club has been ordered to remove all property improvements, structures and other impediments to air navigation and to restore said property to its pre-leased condition in accordance with all lease provisions within 30 days of the filing of the order.

David Cahoon, attorney for the city and the airport said the club's lease is terminated 30 days after the order is entered. Cahoon, as the winning attorney, must draft a document for the judge and the club's attorney, C.W. Knauts, to sign. Once that is signed, the 30 days begin.

"The city and the airport terminated the golf club's lease two years ago, and the golf club sued for an injunction," Cahoon said. "The decision encompasses the entire lease and requires the property to be returned to its pre-lease condition. They must vacate the entire property, including the Country Club building, the tennis courts, swimming pool and all of the golf greens."

The decision also requires the golf club to pay a $10,000 bond if they wish to appeal the decision. Each entity is required to pay it's own attorney fees incurred throughout the months of litigation.

Walnut Ridge Mayor Michelle Rogers said vacating the County Club building has never been discussed.

"Our main concern has always been to clear the greens from the runway areas," she said. "We have never discussed trying to get rid of the clubhouse, tennis courts or swimming pool."

She said the airport commission will meet Monday night and will ultimately make the decision since they oversee the lease.

"We are still willing to work with the golf club," she said. "The safety areas had to be cleared that was non-negotiable." She added that she had talked with several of the commissioners and the council, and once the airport is back in compliance, both groups are very willing to help the club.

"I just hate it that this had to go to court," she added. "We are not trying to get rid of the golf club. As individuals, we'd still like to see if we can help them."

Dan Coker, chairman of the airport commission, said they are glad it's over.

"The commission knew that when the court got the facts, the airport would prevail," Coker said. "We are saddened by the fact that it came down to a lawsuit."

He said the commission has notified the FAA and the Department of Aeronautics, and they, too, are glad it's over.

Terry Ryan, spokesman for the golf club, said that at this time the club plans to appeal the decision.

Ryan said he did not understand how a valid lease could just be terminated without the lease being violated, which he does not believe the golf club did.

"This is our town. We cannot allow unelected commissioners to tell us what we can and cannot do," he said. "If they can close us down, there are other businesses at the airport that could end up just like us."

Country club sets special meeting

The Walnut Ridge Country Club will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday night to discuss the club's legal status and to plan the next step in their appeal process. The meeting will be held at the Country Club and is open to all members and any other concerned citizens who would like to attend.

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