A small general aviation airport in rural New Jersey known as “Solberg” has been under withering assault for nearly a decade by the local township. Solberg has been around forever and is enjoyed by pilots and aircraft owners up and down the East Coast and beyond. A lovely family owns it and they have been nearly bankrupted in trying to protect what was legally theirs to peaceably enjoy.
Well, they won a huge victory. Not only did the judge hearing the eminent domain claim turn the township away, it assessed millions of dollars in fines against it.
Armstrong's 54-page ruling came after a 48-day trial that began in May 2014 and ended in January with testimony from 11 witnesses and more than 800 pieces of evidence. The judge also reviewed 5,600 pages of court transcripts.
Not only is general aviation important to the national infrastructure, but it serves a critical role as the cradle of aviation. The security and economic vitality of the United States depends on this laboratory of flight where future civilian and military pilots are born. Airports such as Solberg blossomed in an era when local young men turned their dreams of barnstorming into air dominance in World War II and led this country into its golden age. These dreams still live in our youth, and general aviation endures as the proving ground for future pilots from all walks of life. Finally, there is a certain freedom that defines general aviation. Men and women throughout history gazed longingly at the soaring effortless freedom of birds, pondering release from the symbolic bondage of gravity. Only here can a man or woman walk onto some old farmer’s field and turn dreams into reality. As Charles Lindbergh once said: “What freedom lies in flying, what Godlike power it gives to men . . . I lose all consciousness in this strong unmortal space crowded with beauty, pierced with danger." - Judge Paul ArmstrongArmstrong ruled that the township's condemnation plan "was orchestrated to prevent airport expansion under the pretextual banner of open-space policy" and that it amounted to a "manifest abuse of power."
Links: Airfare America
Solberg Airport News
In fine, an objective scrutiny of the collective testimony of the elected officials involved in the architecture and implementation of the eminent domain ordinance concerning the SHA property reveals a studied attempt to obscure the true purpose of the condemnors in the instant taking. The Court finds this testimony, as a whole, to be unforthright, evasive, untrustworthy, argumentative, lacking credibility and therefore unworthy of belief.
Moreover, the resultant lack of transparency in governmental actions of Readington Township has subverted an open political process thus weakening the protection of all its citizens’ private property rights including the Solberg family. That is to say the condemnation was singularly initiated to secure Township control over airport operations.This objective evidence conclusively establishes that the taking was in direct response to Solberg’s airport development proposal and only ostensibly part of some environmental protection plan dependent upon the condemnation of the subject property. Such behavior undermines the integrity of the municipal government’s stated public purpose behind Ordinance 25-2006 and demonstrates bad faith. Accordingly, the taking is invalid in its entirety.