November 12, 2013
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
New Jersey's Readington Township has voted to move forward with plans to seize Solberg Airport property through eminent domain proceedings. The vote came on Nov. 8, just days after AOPA sent a letter to Readington Mayor Julia Allen asking the township to stop spending taxpayer money trying to close the privately owned, public-use airport and instead work with the family that has owned and operated the field for more than three generations. The township has reportedly spent more than $5 million on the issue.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the township’s short-sighted actions, but now it’s time for the state of New Jersey to step in and protect this airport,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports. “Solberg is part of the state aviation system plan and any action that impairs operations at the field could have a major impact statewide.”
AOPA has previously asked the state to get involved in protecting the airport, meeting on two separate occasions with the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation to discuss the issue. But to date the state has taken no action.
The vote to continue with eminent domain proceedings is just the latest in a long line of attacks on the airport. In 2006, the township filed a condemnation suit against the property. That suit was dismissed in 2009 but was later reactivated. Earlier this month, the court denied a request from the township to amend its condemnation suit, which is set to go to trial in March 2014. The township claims that it wants to acquire the airport property in order to preserve the airport. A previous attempt by the township to amend its complaint to acquire the land surrounding the airport through eminent domain was also dismissed by the court in July.
Many view the township’s claim that it wants to preserve the airport with suspicion given the long history of attempts to close the field using similar methods. Despite the vote, no immediate action will be taken to acquire the land which remains part of a pending court case.
AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.
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