Lawyers for Navy, Goliad County meet in federal court

June 7, 2011 at 1:07 a.m.

The mood in federal court was somber Tuesday morning, as members of Goliad Airpark Coalition came to grips with the uphill battle they continue to face against the Navy in its condemnation of the Goliad Airpark.

In their first appearance in front of Judge John D. Rainey, lawyers for the U.S. government and Goliad County scheduled dates for how the trial of the U.S. government versus the airpark property will proceed.

The dates included June 30, the due-date of the county's response to the Navy's objection regarding Goliad contesting condemnation.

While the judge waits to make a ruling on the objection, the Navy is free to proceed with its plans to have the airpark functional for touch-and-go flight training by 2012.

A jury selection and trial date was set for November 2012, but James Johnson, a member of the coalition, said he's convinced the matter will be negotiated before then.

"This is theater that we're going through today," Johnson said.

About 10 of the airpark coalition's members attended the brief scheduling day at federal court. Afterward, they talked with lawyers from the law firm hired by the county, Barron and Adler, of Houston.

Kimberli Loessin, an attorney specializing in eminent domain, explained the difficulties of fighting the government's ability to condemn property. She called it "an extraordinary power of the federal government."

Loessin explained to the coalition that only in two instances can the government's right to take be denied: if the land is not used for a public purpose and if there are no appropriations to pay for the land.

The about 1,136 acres of land will be used for T-6 training flights from the Naval Air Station based in Corpus Christi. Congress appropriated $2.36 million to compensate the county for the airpark.

"We have objected ... but quite frankly, the law is limited," said Mike Barron, who's representing the county. "It is a very long uphill battle to challenge the government's right to take."

Several members of the community and landowners near Berclair have opposed the Navy taking over the airpark since the government first offered to purchase the land in 2008. They argue the Navy's presence will significantly increase noise and air pollution, cause loss of property value and loss of tourism.

An Environmental Assessment published by the Navy acknowledged a possible increase in air pollution in Goliad, roughly 130,000 tons per year, but called the impact "less than significant." The entire assessment resulted in a "Finding of No Significant Impact" should the Navy acquire the airpark.

The coalition also contends the Navy's presence will bring no economic value to Goliad County because the nature of touch-and-go flights doesn't require any permanent presence, investment or spending in the community. Instead, Corpus Christi will reap the benefits of the permanent base while exporting its pollution to Goliad, said coalition chair Serena Edwards.

The city of Corpus Christi offered to purchase the airpark in 2009, an offer the county commissioners court denied.

"This has nothing to do with patriotism, it has to do with greed," she said.

The Navy has expressed in news releases that it strives to be a good neighbor in Goliad, but Edwards and Johnson wondered why the Navy has not held any public meetings to communicate with Goliad citizens - like the May meeting the Navy had in Corpus Christi to address public concerns over noise levels.

The most likely outcome of the federal case will involve a negotiated price for the sale of the airpark, coalition members conceded. The commissioners court in May approved hiring an independent appraiser for the property.

"It doesn't look good, but it's not over," Johnson said. "It depends on the appraisal."

A spokesperson in the public affairs office at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi declined to comment citing the pending investigation.



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