Appeals Court upholds WR Airport decision; battle not over

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback


For three years,the Walnut Ridge Airport has been locked in a legal battle with the Walnut Ridge golf course over land.

Today a Court of Appeals judge ruled in favor of the city. But that doesn't mean the dispute is over.

To get you up to speed. This controversy is over runway 18/36 and the airport's desire to upgrade the runway status to C3. In hopes of luring charter business to the airport.

I sat down with Allen Smith the President of the golf course Board of Directors.

"The inspection came in from the FAA and for a part 139 certification and they found that due to that being a C3 runway there were infringements from the golf course in its present location."

Part of the golf course runs parallel and wraps around the end of 1-8. But with bigger planes they need more safety area on the sides and end.

That means the golf course has to move cart paths and 7 holes.

So the battle has been fought for nearly 2 and a half years.

In May of 2009 Circuit Judge Harold Erwin passed down the decision that the golf course should revert to the city.

That decision was appealed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

On Wednesday the court handed down it's decision.

Smith, "It basically says it affirmed the Motion of Summary Judgement for the Appellee which would be the City of Walnut Ridge and the Walnut Ridge Airport Commission. So in other words they upheld Judge Erwin's decision."

So are the bulldozers ready to roll? Not quite yet. Decisions must be made.

Smith, "We've got to have a meeting of the Board of Directors first to discuss options. One option that is available is to file a Petition of Review. "

Basically an appeal to re-look at their decision or parts of it.

Meanwhile the course stays open but membership issues are costing the course income.

Smith, "A good majority of the memberships that we have lost are due to this on-going litigation."  Membership is down to about a 100 members with prospects reluctant to join until they see which way this case winds up.

And even though the city seems unbending, it seems as though Walnut Ridge Mayor Michelle Rogers might be tentatively extending an olive branch.

Carolyn Fowler is a club member and organizes a cancer charity golf tournament. She called the  mayor to see if they could go ahead and schedule the tournament for next month.

"Mrs. Rogers assured me to go ahead with our golf tournament. That she was willing to work with the course and do everything in her power to help keep it open."

In the meantime the battle continues.

Smith, "It's like we've been given the death sentence and of course anybody that's given the death sentence will appeal as much as they can."

Smith says they hope to have the Board of Directors meeting on Thursday and then decide about bringing this matter to the membership as a whole.

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