FINLEYVILLE – The swath of trees at the end of Finleyville Airport’s runway that has long been considered a danger to pilots flying into the airfield will be coming down soon.
Union Township officials announced they have agreed to spend $12,000 to cut down the trees at the end of the runway to comply with federal and state guidelines mandating the removal of obstructions leading to the airport.
The decision ends the lengthy legal battle and often volatile negotiations with the Parish family that owns the land bordering the runway after both the township and airport offered to purchase it to make safety improvements. The state awarded the privately owned airport a $90,000 grant to purchase 15 acres last summer, but the family rejected any offers after previously asking for as much as $115,000 to also cover attorney fees.
Linda Evans-Boren, chairwoman of the Union Township board of supervisors, said she is relieved that the stalemate is ending, but disappointed that the taxpayers have to pay for the tree removal and the years of litigation. She estimates the township has spent $75,000 in legal and engineering fees since 2005 without adding the “soft costs” of the time spent by the supervisors and office personnel, and noted that the dispute has been going on even longer.
“I am relieved that the trees are coming down and relieved there has not been an accident,” Evans-Boren said. “That is our main concern. But I’m very disappointed with the loss for the taxpayers of Union Township. It was a lose-lose. They received nothing for that money. It didn’t need to be this way.”
The board enacted an airport hazard ordinance to protect Finleyville Airport’s runway from obstructions in 2008 after hearing complaints from pilots as far back as the late 1980s. State and federal regulations have, since 1984, required municipalities to enact such an ordinance that limits the height of buildings and trees near airports.
The township hired Wolfgang Timber Service to remove the trees, Evans-Boren said, and they began clearing small paths around the area this week. She was unsure how long it would take to remove the hazards, although she noted that the area closest to the edge of the runway is densely wooded.
The Parish family still owns the land, although there have been rumblings it might be sold to a neighboring property owner after the trees are removed. Evans-Boren said the land’s eventual owner is inconsequential to the township or the airport as long as the trees are gone.
“The most important thing is that the trees come down and there is no loss of life,” she said. “It’s not going to be an easy job.”
The $90,000 state grant to the airport, though, is up in the air. Gerald Cook, the Pittsburgh lawyer representing the airport, said airport officials are investigating whether the money can be used for other purposes or must be returned to the state.
“We were really focused on the safety issue with the trees,” Cook said. “The grant money is still an issue that has to be dealt with.”
Mary Parish, who owns the property next to the airport, is the mother of Union Township Supervisor Steve Parish. The family’s attorney, John Arminas, could not be reached for comment to discuss the agreement.