Landowners meet with Bonner

Published 9:26 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

By By MaryClaire Foster
Several Atmore landowners took their concerns about the possible condemnation of their property adjacent to Atmore Municipal Airport to Mobile last Friday to meet with Congressman Jo Bonner.
The City of Atmore was in court last month, in a still unresolved case, with other landowners of neighboring property up for condemnation to acquire a runway protection zone and expansion for the airport.
The landowners at Friday’s meeting were there to voice their concerns over a map of the airport and surrounding land that shows much of their property marked for future acquisition by the city.
Randy Nichols, son of one of the landowners, said this was the second meeting of the landowners and said they met specifically with Bonner because it was he who procured the grants from the Federal Aviation Administration that are funding these endeavors.
Nichols said the landowners had requested a private meeting, but learned Thursday that city officials were invited and then on Friday were surprised to see that a member of the media was also on hand.
Shell said Tuesday that he was invited to the meeting by Bonner and was unaware that the landowners asked it be a private meeting without city officials or media.
David Gehman, one of the property owners in attendance, said he specifically wanted to meet with Bonner because the property is not within the city limits of Atmore, and therefore, not under the city’s authority unless eminent domain was exercised. Gehman said he was offended by a comment made by the mayor in the meeting that it was an unnecessary step taken by the landowners.
Nichols said he thought the meeting went well and called it “healthy.”
While neither Shell nor the landowners considered the meeting negative, neither of the two parties agrees on what the truth of the matter is.
Shell said the city is simply following what the FAA has instructed them to do and at this time there are no plans to acquire the property in question at the meeting.
Shell testified in the court case involving other land adjacent to the airport that if the land was not acquired per the FAA, the airport would not be able to continue to operate because funding would be taken away.
Nichols and Gehman however, both stated that the FAA is not mandating the acquisition of the land.
Nichols said he has contacted the FAA and was told that the reason the city is acquiring the land is because they chose to accept grant money and at that point were bound by the stipulations of the grant to acquire the land.
Shell said Tuesday that at this time the city is not planning to acquire the land and would only do so if instructed by the FAA and would let landowners know if plans change.

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