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TCRA to seek Grande Harbor lots through eminent domain

Hank Hayes • Aug 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Regional Airport commissioners engaged in a rare closed-door meeting Thursday before authorizing an eminent domain action to acquire six troublesome subdivision lots located next to a crosswind runway.

TCRA staff, tenants and reporters were asked to leave the commission room at the outset of the Airport Commission meeting so an executive session could be held to discuss the legal action.

“The (Tennessee) Open Meetings Law allows public bodies to go into executive session to discuss pending or anticipated litigation, particularly where litigation strategy is discussed, and that’s what we did,” TCRA legal counsel Bill Bovender explained.

After the 25-minute executive session, commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement designating Sullivan County as the lead governmental entity to initiate the eminent domain action seeking six lots within the high-end Grande Harbor housing development.

Those lots are located within the airport’s Runway Protection Zone — an undeveloped area where planes, buildings and people are not supposed to be at risk.

TCRA’s ongoing problem has been the lots have housing restrictions.

If TCRA can’t acquire those lots, any thoughts of extending the 4,447-foot crosswind runway by 500 feet and building a perimeter road around the airfield remain in jeopardy.

Those two improvements, TCRA officials have noted, are key to making that runway usable for corporate jets and spurring new corporate hangar development on the airfield’s south side. TCRA also has three locations set aside for south side economic development.

Last year, TCRA entered into a standstill agreement with Grande Harbor’s developers, paid them $120,000 and asked the Sullivan County Commission to initiate a friendly eminent domain action to acquire and remove housing restrictions on the six lots.

Afterward, county commissioners “did have questions related to the participation of the five other airport owners in any potential liability for the costs of the condemnation proceedings,” states a memo from TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson.

Airport commissioners also previously discussed the possibility of other Grande Harbor property owners, as well as the developers who have unsold lots, seeking other damages from TCRA.

One other unknown was whether the federal government, through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), would pay for the lots and the condemnation process.

Wilson, in a recent memo to commissioners, said the FAA has indicated the eminent domain costs “would be eligible for reimbursement ... after the condemnation action is completed.”

In the meantime, airport commissioners agreed the legal action would be paid for out of airport reserves.

TCRA has been authorized by all six airport owners to move forward with the eminent domain action, Wilson said.

TCRA’s owners are Sullivan and Washington counties, Johnson City, Kingsport, and both Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va.

For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.

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