02/15/05 — Go for it! Rewrite proposal on Currituck land

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Go for it! Rewrite proposal on Currituck land

Gov. Mike Easley and his lawyer have prevailed in the Currituck airport issue. The citizens of Currituck County and the will of the General Assembly are the losers.

For years, Currituck County has operated its airport on a 535-acre site owned by the state. It also serves as a county landfill and for other purposes.

The county sought to get title to the land so it could promote it as an industrial park. It already has an excellent and anxious prospect. Under existing conditions, a prospect would have to deal with the state as well as the county.

To accomplish this, Sen. Marc Basnight and Rep. Bill Owens introduced a one-line bill in the General Assembly conveying to Currituck “the land on which the Currituck County Airport is situated.”

Easley signed the measure into law.

But when it came time to turn the land over to Currituck, the governor insisted that less than half of the property would go to the county — just that part on which the airport sits. If it wanted the remaining 230 acres, Currituck would have to pay for it. Some observers suggested this could involve $1 million or more.

Currituck is a poor county and, like most counties in the east, has not enjoyed the economic development enjoyed by the Piedmont.

Basnight and Owens insisted that the intention of the legislature was to convey all the acreage. Easley disagreed, insisting that he was following the “letter of the law.”

Currituck officials took the matter to court.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled against Currituck but didn’t exactly buy the governor’s opinion either as far as “the letter of the law” was concerned.

Manning said “the law” in this case wasn’t enforceable because it lacked “a proper legal description.” He said the vagueness of the “law” was such that it failed to convey any property at all.

So, in effect, Currituck, in going for the full loaf the Legislature intended for it to have, could end up losing the half loaf the governor was offering.

An important lesson for Basnight, Owens and other legislators is that before doing anything nowadays, one better involve some lawyers lest their honest intentions be nullified by a technicality.

But as was suggested in this space earlier — and recently mentioned by Judge Manning — Sen. Basnight and Rep. Owens have a simple solution available to them: Rewrite and re-introduce the bill, after consulting with folks like lawyer-legislator John Kerr, of course.

Easley, of course, has veto power. But surely he would not use it in this matter.

Published in Editorials on February 15, 2005 10:04 AM