OSKALOOSA — A judge has thrown out the Site A Landowners' lawsuit challenging the South Central Regional Airport Authority.
Judge Crystal Cronk in the ruling filed Sept. 18 but published Tuesday upheld for a third time a 2018 determination that the 28E agreement which created the SCRAA was legal and enforceable.
She determined that the Site A Landowners' suit, which was filed against the cities of Oskaloosa and Pella and Mahaska County, should be dismissed because the landowners have not yet suffered an injury in the legal context.
In order to prevail, the Site A Landowners would have had to show they were "injuriously affected." The court's ruling used language in the landowners' original lawsuit filing against them, saying the landowners acknowledged the airport site has not been finalized.
Judge Cronk ruled this means injury to the landowners is merely hypothetical, though acknowledged if the airport moves forward at this site the landowners "could have a unique injury different [from] the population generally."
In 2013, Site A was selected as the best location for construction, and the cities have begun purchasing land in the area.
In 2018, Judge Shawn Showers ruled with the two cities that Mahaska County had breached its contract in the SCRAA and that the intergovernmental body was legally created. The most recent ruling by Judge Cronk upholds that determination for the third time.
"The Court thinks this two-year history of upholding the June 13th (2018) ruling without wavering strongly supports the finding that the ruling is sufficiently firm," Judge Cronk wrote in her decision.
The landowners of the proposed airport site in rural Leighton sued Mahaska County, the two cities and the regional airport authority in 2019. While Mahaska County was a defendant along with the suit, they sought the same result as the Site A Landowners did.
The cities argued that the prior rulings in the case between them and the county were identical as it pertained to the 28E agreement which created the SCRAA. Judge Cronk agreed, saying the agreement "was valid, did not violate public policy, and that there was no legal basis for invalidating the agreement."
Judge Cronk also denied Mahaska County's request for sanctions against the attorneys for the two cities and denied Mahaska County's motion for summary judgment.
The only pending litigation regarding the airport remains the counterclaim by the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors against the two cities over 220th Street. That was set for trial this fall, but the court has a pending continuance motion that has not yet been decided.
The proposed regional airport project has been in a legal entanglement for several years, causing all parties to rack up considerable legal expenses. Between November 2019 and June 2020, the county's current legal firm Belin McCormick PC had submitted $387,851.96 in legal bills to the supervisors. The cities, through the end of July, have split a total legal bill of $148,391.91.
The SCRAA was formed on March 29, 2012, with the county and two cities all approving and signing an agreement under Iowa Code Chapter 28E. That agreement required that any modification, or termination, would have to be approved by all three parties.
In July 2013, after the board of the supervisors' composition had changed, they passed a resolution to remove the SCRAA's ability to request the county use its eminent domain authority from the agreement. Neither city signed on to that change.
In June 2017, the supervisors voted to withdrawal from the agreement, again denied by the cities. The cities ultimately sued the county in August 2017 to determine the validity of the agreement and to find Mahaska County in breach of that agreement. The court dide so in June 2018, when a judge ordered Mahaska County to participate in good faith going forward.
In September 2018, the cities asked the court to expand on its ruling. The court did so in February 2019, when it again found the agreement to be legal and enforceable, and directed Mahaska County to begin particpating in good faith and for its representative on the SCRAA to begin attending the airport authority's meetings.