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County grants airport section line closure

Stark County Commissioners Tuesday granted Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport a requested closure of a section of 112th Avenue SW ahead of its runway expansion project. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Stark County Commissioners Tuesday granted Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport a long sought closure of a section of county road.

"We are up against some deadlines that we need to act on," Kelly Braun, airport manager, said Tuesday.

The airport had requested that a section of 112th Avenue SW between 41st and 42nd Street SW be vacated for its upcoming runway expansion project.

The county holds the easement on the section line.

Stark County Commissioners on July 18 decided not to vacate the road until agreements with the landowners had been completed.

The airport's board filed condemnation action suits against two neighboring landowners in September.

Roughly 200 acres from Jeff Kuhn and about 24 acres from Dale Kostelecky were needed for the expansion project. The eminent domain suit was filed when an agreement could not be reached with the two.

"The court granted an order giving possession of the property to the airport authority, so on both sides of the section line the authority has legal possession of the property," Randall Sickler, with Ebeltoft Sickler Lawyers, explained.

Not resolving the issue of the vacation risked jeopardizing Federal Aviation Administration funding, Sickler said.

"Approximately $10 million has been earmarked by the FAA for this project after a rather rigorous process," he said. "We're very grateful to be able to get those funds and we want to make sure we don't lose those funds."

Sickler warned that the county could be brought into the condemnation suit if the request was not granted.

"We're really under the eyes of the FAA," he said. "To move this project forward, we need to address the section line. The other deadline we're up against is in the condemnation action to add additional parties in. That has to be done by early December."

He added, "If the county doesn't act on this, we have no choice but to name the county in the condemnation action, which is certainly something we don't want to do."

The airport was previously directed to include Stark County in its suit.

"We told you to move forward with condemnation and just treat us like you're treating the rest of the landowners that surround this property," Commissioner Jay Elkin said.

Following the condemnation action, legal possession of the surrounding lands now belongs to the airport.

The issue of determining the fair market value of the land to pay landowners will go to trial in October 2019, Sickler said.

"The landowners are in the process of obtaining appraisals," he said. "We're hopeful we can reach middle ground on that and not have to have the trial."

Tom Henning, Stark County state's attorney, explained the intent of the airport's request and the commissioners' responsibility.

"The issue is whether they can do dirt work on the section line since the county has the authority to govern that right-of-way," he said. "They've addressed the statutory points for grounds for closure, and at this time they're essentially saying we would rather not include you in the (action)."

An expanded runway is needed immediately to meet current demands.

Private jets presently have to receive a special waiver to land because the runway is too short. It also does not meet standards also for the current commercial 100-seat planes, in terms of width, length or density.

The 100-foot runway needs to be 150 feet wide and 7,400 feet long, with a weight bearing capacity of 90,000 pound to meet today's standards.

The airport also continues to see increasing enplanement numbers each year.

Commissioner Russ Hoff made the motion to approve the airport's request.

"I think it's time we move on," he said. "The airport is a need, not a want. In order to expand it, they need this."

Commissioner Pete Kuntz was the sole dissenting vote.

All commissioners signed the order for the section line closure, which will be filed with the auditor's office.