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Oldham airport board gets an earful at hearing

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By The Staff

Landmark News Service

Joe Schoenbaechler said he felt like a Louisville Cards fan standing center field inside Commonwealth Stadium on Monday night.

But UK fans might have shown more mercy.

Schoenbaechler, director of Oldham County Economic Development Authority, was one of three people who spoke in favor of building an airport in Oldham County during a public meeting about the airport. He was met with a wave of boos before he put down the microphone.

The John Black Community Center was riddled with accusations, pleas and even threats from a group of residents living near one of the three proposed sites for an airport in Oldham County.

The crowd's arguments against airport plans were directed at members of Oldham County Fiscal Court and the airport board, which was appointed by Oldham County Judge-Executive Duane Murner in May to conduct a study on the feasibility of building an airport.

What was intended to be a informational session about the possible airport sites ended abruptly when those speaking in opposition refused to let the public comment section of the airport board's meeting end.

Jonathan Westbrook, chairman of the airport board, couldn't bring order to the meeting when Randi Means, a realtor who planned to speak against the airport, was left out of the line up of speakers. After heated testimony against the airport, the crowd called to the board, "let her speak."

Frustrated by frequent interruptions and the disorder of the hearing, Westbrook ended the hearing without answering questions.

Westbrook presented the three possible locations, including sites on Dawkins Road, Gathright Hill and Blakemore Lane to fiscal court Nov. 6. He also addressed the estimated cost of an airport, of which more than 97 percent the board plans to be funded by FAA grants.

He said there will only be one site selected by the Federal Aviation Administration. The next step in the process is surveying each of the three selected sites for economic impact. Land acquisition will not start until late next year, Westbrook said.

"This is part of the democratic process," Westbrook said. "I think feedback from residents is an important part of the process."

In the public comment segment, many speakers argued that an airport will add pollution and noise and disturb the rural character of their bedroom community. Others pointed out that the cost of an airport will result in higher taxes.

Board members planned to respond to questions raised in the public comment portion of the meeting. William Stout, aviation division manager of Entran Designs in Nashville, said he was prepared to clear up misconceptions about the airport.

Stout said the general aviation airport will cause minimal noise. He said many of the concerns he heard Monday night may have been put to ease if he had the crowd's attention. The crowd denied Stout the opportunity to defend the project when cries and shouts would not cease at Westbrook's request.

Jana Greenwell, who lives in a historic home in Pewee Valley, said she dreads the thought of planes flying overhead. She held a sign reading "Pewee Valley doesn't want to be an approach flight lane," at the meeting.

"It will be irritating," Greenwell said. "I don't want to listen to it."

Barry Laws, who boasts his business Open Range in Crestwood as one of the top ranges in the country, said he believes the airport would be an incentive for owners of private planes to land in La Grange. He sees the airport as an asset to his business.

"There are a lot of people who have money to fly," Laws said. "The airport would open up another portal for business here."

Dewey Wotring, who will posts his comments on the airport on a Web site he maintains called "Oldham County Watchdog," said although the FAA makes the airport look like a good deal, it still costs money. He encouraged the crowd to contact their magistrates with their opposition.

"We are going to be taxed to death to pay for (the court's) expenditures and this airport is one," Wotring said.

Magistrate Iva Davis, who hasn't decided how she feels about the airport, said she's interested to know if Monday night's turnout reflects the attitude of the entire community. She also said fiscal court has not had an opportunity to discuss the airport yet.

"We're here tonight to hear what people want," Davis said.

Murner was disappointed that the airport board was unable to respond to the emotional crowd. He reiterated that the airport cannot be put on the ballot.

"The reason for the whole meeting was to hear ... there is no reason to be angry about it," Murner said.

Murner said ultimately the airport plan will be voted on by members of fiscal court. He said the court must decide if the opinions expressed Monday represent the entire county.

"I think we've heard enough tonight to pause," Murner said of the fiscal court.

E-mail us about this story at editor@hclocal.com.