New Jersey Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong ruled unambiguously in favor of a family owned airport with a long history, and excoriated the town government that has for decades attempted to thwart operations, and more recently to seize the property using eminent domain laws.
Armstrong’s May 4 ruling, the latest chapter in a battle between Readington Township and the family owned airport that dates to the 1960s, states that town officials acted in bad faith in their condemnation of the property, and found the attempted land grab illegal.
“The evidence presented demonstrates that the public purpose stated by the Township for the taking of the airport property was not based on any public need but solely in response to community fears regarding the proposed use of the airport,” Armstrong wrote, noting that town officials had done much to inflame those fears. He sharply criticized local officials who testified during the seven-month trial, stating their testimony “reveals a studied attempt to obscure the true purpose of the condemnors in the instant taking. The Court finds this testimony, as a whole, to be un-forthright, evasive, untrustworthy, argumentative, lacking credibility and therefore unworthy of belief.”
Armstrong's 54-page ruling, posted on the airport website, details the value of Solberg-Hunterdon Airport with extraordinary eloquence, extending the argument to a rousing endorsement of general aviation airports as a whole.
“Not only is general aviation important to the national infrastructure, but it serves a critical role as the cradle of aviation. The security and economic vitality of the United States depends on this laboratory of flight where future civilian and military pilots are born,” Armstrong wrote. “Airports such as Solberg blossomed in an era when local young men turned their dreams of barnstorming into air dominance in World War II and led this country into its golden age.”
Armstrong went on to quote Charles Lindbergh. As for township officials, Armstrong had harsh words.
“Moreover, the resultant lack of transparency in governmental actions of Readington Township has subverted an open political process thus weakening the protection of all its citizens’ private property rights including the Solberg family,” Armstrong wrote.
AOPA has supported the family’s fight against the township over the years, urging the town in 2013 to “cease and desist in efforts to take the property from the Solberg family.” The association will continue to monitor developments in case the town government opts to continue its efforts to disrupt, limit, or close the airport that serves a range of functions important to aviators, and the public at large, as Armstrong noted in his ruling.