Board considers eminent domain for airport

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County may need to condemn land around its airport to meet a federal mandate.

The Board of Supervisors hopes it can reach agreements with the property owners and avoid the need to condemn the property, County Attorney Blair Mitchell said Wednesday.

Supervisors on Tuesday directed staff to set public hearings for Aug. 19 to begin eminent-domain proceedings to acquire land and easements for avigation and beacon towers for the Front Royal-Warren County Airport as required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The board approved the motion after discussing the matter in closed session.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that the airport keep trees, towers, utility poles and even crops around the runway below a certain height limit, Mitchell said. The county needs to acquire property and easements in order to cut down trees that encroach the airspace. The county must do this by February.

The county seeks to acquire property and/or easements from Brainard and Rebecca Coffey, James and Julie Curry and Gregory Grigsby.

But the county may not need to hold the hearing.

“We’re continuing to talk with both of them,” Mitchell said, referring to the Coffeys and the Currys. “They actually came into closed session for a portion of the closed session and told the board their concerns.

“Without going into details, we are going to go back to them with an offer and we’ll see if that results in anything,” Mitchell added. “If it does, fine, we’ll sign contracts. If it doesn’t, then we’ll have a public hearing.”

Board Chairman Dan Murray Jr. also wouldn’t give details of the discussion.

“We’re hoping common sense prevails,” Murray said. “If you’re going to live near an airport you know there’s noise. But you also know there are continually changing regulations.”

The county has little choice in the matter, Murray and Mitchell said. The county must comply with the requirements set by the federal agency, Murray said. Airports in the state that chose not to abide by the agency’s requirements lost full use of their runways, Mitchell and Murray said.

“We’re trying to stay in compliance so we don’t lose the airport,” Murray said. “God forbid that ever happen because we have a blessing here.”

The county also needs to build three, lattice-type towers, each 50-feet to 70-feet high with red beacons at the top. The towers will mark the outer edges of the boundary easements and aid pilots in landings and flights around the airport, Mitchell explained.

The county began its work to meet the mandate in 2007 by holding information meetings. The county received surveys and appraisals for the needed properties in 2011 and began negotiations at that time, Mitchell said. Since then, the board reached deals with all but a few property owners and adopted resolutions to buy land or obtain easements. The county has paid between $10,000 and $50,000 for the needed property. Mitchell said 98 percent of the purchase price has been covered by state and federal funds.

“But there are two, final owners we haven’t come to terms with yet,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been trying. We’ve been negotiating. We’ve been meeting. We’ve made offers based on appraisals. They’ve come back with, first of all, out-right refusals and then counter offers saying ‘no, this is what we want instead.’ So we’re still talking to them.”

Given the looming deadline, the board decided to set the public hearings to at least begin the condemnation process if needed.

The county needs to acquire less than an acre from Grigsby, Mitchell said. From the Currys, the county wants to buy 1.5 acres and then acquire another 1.5 acres for an easement. The Coffeys own a 3-acre parcel along the road and a 4.5-acre parcel behind it. The county wants to buy about 2 acres of the rear parcel and to acquire 2 or 3 acres in an easement so it can cut down trees, Mitchell said.

“Within the easement, they can do anything they want to do except let trees or structures go up more than a certain height,” Mitchell explained.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com