The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division on Aug. 20 reversed a trial judge’s ruling that would have allowed the town of Readington to take 625 acres of land surrounding the public-use, privately owned Solberg-Hunterdon Airport.
The Solberg family, which owns and operates the airport, has been at odds with the town for years over the future of the airport. The family wants to retain the ability to expand the current 3,735-foot runway to enhance safety; the town objects to an expansion and claims that it wants to preserve “open space” by taking the land through eminent domain. Such a move ultimately would have limited the airport’s growth.
While the town could appeal the ruling to the state supreme court, it is questionable whether the court would agree to hear the case.
“The Solberg family’s perseverance paid off,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of local airport advocacy. “Because the airport is privately owned and has not accepted any federal funding, even though it is open to the public, the family had little support from the state and federal governments for preventing the airport property from being taken by eminent domain. Because these are real estate issues involving state law, it is nearly impossible for others not directly involved in the debate to participate in the legal process.
“Their commitment to the airport, despite political pressures from the town, is why this ruling is the beginning of what could be a thriving airport.”
Few privately owned airports are eligible to receive federal funding, so there are usually no grant assurances that protect airport property. When threats like this occur, it is essentially up to the owners to fight for the field. AOPA offers a white paper with information about protecting privately owned airports.