Suit over land where 5191 crashed is dismissed

February 22, 2007 

A Fayette Circuit Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit over land values that was brought against Blue Grass Airport by the owner of the property where Comair Flight 5191 crashed in August.

The property owner already has appealed the decision, which centers on the value of land the airport would need to move and lengthen the smaller runway used by the Comair plane before it crashed.

Elkhorn Bend, which owns 115.1 acres at 4478-4480 Versailles Road, filed the inverse-condemnation suit in November, claiming that the airport is trying to buy the land for a lot less than it is worth.

Elkhorn Bend wants $30,000 an acre, or more than $3.45 million. Excluding the option fee that Elkhorn Bend had to pay for the land, it bought the property for $748,000 in January 2005.

The airport's May 2006 appraisal of the property set the value at $1.725 million.

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine dismissed the lawsuit Feb. 9, saying Elkhorn Bend failed to state its claim because the airport has not attempted to take the land.

Although the airport hasn't officially begun condemnation proceedings, it will eventually, and it should be made to pay a fair price, said Nick Bentley, owner of Elkhorn Bend.

The airport's master plan calls for relocating the airport's 3,500-foot general aviation runway onto Bentley's land. Flight 5191 mistakenly took off from that runway before it crashed on the farm on Aug. 27, killing 49 passengers and crew members. The airport also is considering extending the runway to 5,000 feet.

Bentley said he hasn't been able to develop the farm the way he wants to because the airport needs land for the runway and can choose to condemn it at any time.

Blue Grass Airport does not have any immediate plans to condemn Bentley's property, said Michael Gobb, the airport's executive director.

Bentley wants to put a quarantine farm and training facility on the land. Also, he had been approached by a veterinarian who was interested in purchasing 40 acres because of its location across the street from Keeneland, Bentley said.

Land in the area is selling for $30,000 to $40,000 an acre, Bentley said. "All I want is what all the other property around there is selling for, or I want a letter from them saying they won't condemn it."

Airport officials contend that although the master plan shows a runway on Bentley's land, it doesn't guarantee that a runway will be constructed there.

Since the early 1980s, there have been seven or eight different locations for runways at Blue Grass Airport, said Gobb.

For example, in 1995 the master plan showed a widely spaced 9,500-foot parallel runway, but the 2005 master plan called for a relocated general-aviation runway, he said.

The airport is more than 18 months into an environmental-review process to determine whether a relocated runway is appropriate, Gobb said. "Until we get through the environmental process, we would not take any action other than acquiring the property from a willing seller."

He said he did not know when the environmental review process would be completed. It could be in six months or it could be in a year, he said.

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