[Dunsmuir] city officials could resort to eminent domain action against two Mott Airport neighbors to revive the closed airport and keep from losing about $77,000 in grant money meant to compensate those landowners.
But newly drafted agreements sent to the property owners Monday could satisfy their requests for a more detailed contract and avoid an eminent domain filing, city Finance Director Keith Anderson said.
"It's my fervent hope," he said Monday. "We've hopefully addressed those concerns."
The council's 3-1 Friday vote, allowing the city staff to use eminent domain if an agreement can't be reached soon, was necessary to protect the city from losing the remainder of an approximately $140,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant issued in 2003, he said.
Without the grant money, the city can't trim trees encroaching into planes' paths. Without taking safety measures like that, the airport can't regain its California Department of Transportation-issued certificate of operation, Anderson said. Mott has been closed two years.
"That’s why we’re taking such a drastic step," he said.
Landowner Genevieve Strande, 78, of Dunsmuir said she’s agreeable to letting the city cut her trees.
What she doesn’t like are other, vague stipulations in a first draft of the aviation and hazard easement. The way Strande interprets it, the contract would limit the number of people she can have at her 2.7-acre property, keep her from burning fall leaves that could send smoke onto the runway, force her to bury her propane fuel tank to avoid an explosion if a plane crashes, and eliminate lights that could create a glare for pilots.
"Are we going to be arrested or fined because we have people over? Or are we going to create smoke from the barbecue? You feel like you’re turning over your property rights to the city of Dunsmuir for an airport that has been going nowhere for a number of years," Strande said.
While scanning the new agreement, Strande read a line that mandates giving the city 30 days’ notice before any "activity."
"If we’re going to have an activity, in other words a barbecue, we have to give 30 days’ notice and a description of the activity," she said.
Anderson said he understands Strande and another airport neighbor, Ken Jimenez, want some clarification of the contract’s wording. But he thinks they are taking its intended safety measures to extremes.
Jimenez can build an airport restaurant on his property, as he has inquired, and Strande can have a party at her house, Anderson said. The agreement would prevent them from "congregating large numbers," however, Anderson said.
"We’re just saying, don’t sell the land to a school or build an apartment complex on it," he said. "The overall objective is for safety."
Nor would it support the installation of an industrial-grade smokestack that could cloud a pilot’s vision, he said. If the landowners agree to the new voluntary easement contract, Jimenez would get about $33,000. Strande would receive about $44,000, Anderson said.
"If she’s happy with it, she takes a check and we’re done. We don’t have to go through with the eminent domain," he said.
Mayor John Fisher said he prefers that solution, although he voted to use eminent domain in this case, if it becomes necessary.
"I don’t like eminent domain. I’m the guy who came on the council and said, ‘I have a problem with eminent domain,’ and I do," Fisher said.
"But when it comes to a stalemate, sometimes it seems the only thing to do," he said of the council’s decision. "It’s not an adverse situation, it’s just that we had to make a move to protect this money."
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