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Trapping rainwater could solve airport slope problems

Although Jackson County and the Airport Authority prevailed in a lawsuit this month blaming them for slope failure at the airport, they can’t rest easy yet.

Work on projects to make the airport more geologically stable is set to begin in January.

Earlier this month Superior Court Judge Ronald K. Payne of Buncombe County ruled in favor of Jackson County and the Jackson County Airport Authority in a lawsuit that was filed by airport neighbors Douglas Pruett and Robert Ammons two years ago.

Payne ruled in favor of the county on the basis of the statute of repose, saying if a lawsuit was to be filed against the airport regarding slope stability it should have been done in the first seven years of the airport’s existence. It is similar to a statute of limitations.

Attorney for the plaintiff’s, Eric Ridenour of Sylva, noted that the statute of repose means that his clients would have had to sue the airport in 1984 over an incident that occurred in 2005.

Pruett and Ammons filed the lawsuit claiming the airport was built on an unsteady slope and poses a risk to their lives. Pruett and Ammons filed their lawsuit after mud and dirt slid off the airport’s hillside and landed 500 feet down slope on their property during an August 2005 storm.

Airport Authority Chairman Greg Hall said the projects at the airport include constructing two stormwater detention ponds that will retain rainwater and release it slowly rather than the water rushing off the side of the airport.

The detention ponds were recommended in a study commissioned by the county that was conducted after the lawsuit was filed.

The projects are being funded by federal funds the airport gets annually, Hall said.

He said the airport gets $150,000 a year from the federal government that it can use for airport projects. To receive the money the county has to provide a 10 percent match, he said.

For several years the county was unwilling to match the money but eventually did in 2007 and 2008, which unlocked about $800,000 that had accumulated over time, Hall said.

Of that, about $400,000 is going toward building the retention ponds and building a new parking lot, he said.

Hall said a new parking area is needed so the current parking lot can be used as a location for additional hangars.

He said there is a waiting list of more than 50 pilots who want hangars. Hangars could rent for $250 a month, providing additional revenue for the airport, Hall said.

Of the approximately $800,000, another $200,000 went toward various improvements such as a weather station, runway lighting, a terminal building and a new septic system.

The remaining approximately $200,000 is being earmarked for the new hangars, he said.

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