February 12, 2016
The issue of using settlement negotiations rather than continued litigation has come up again recently. As detailed by Committeewoman Duffy on 2/1/16, formal negotiations have taken place with the Solbergs and various legal intermediaries (via retired judges & participating attorneys, both in-person between the parties and indirectly) in 2005, 2006, 2009 & 2014. Negotiations have also taken place more directly between Township officials and the airport owners. Citizens (balloon pilots, friends and neighbors) have even tried their hand at coming to an agreement. Unfortunately, all of these efforts over the course of 15 years have been fruitless.
In addition, in 2002 the NJ State DOT was under contract to purchase the airport for $22M but the Solbergs backed out at the last minute. This led Readington on the path to acquiring the 625 acres that surround the airport. This press release from the State highlights the agreement they thought they had reached: http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/about/press/2002/041102.shtm
Also, some have stated recently that the willingness of the Solbergs to negotiate was negatively impacted by the recording and publication of official sessions. The only verified recording of any conversations was one recorded between former Mayor Ron Monaco, Readington's attorney and Thor Solberg. It was recorded by Lorraine Solberg and was played at the 2015 Eminent Domain trial. This was entered into testimony by the Solbergs' legal team.
Mayor Fort indicated on 2/1/16 that Readington remains open to negotiation and has said several times that the town would be interested in hearing new proposals. Like many of our neighbors, Citizens for Readington would welcome a settled agreement rather than leaving the decision to judges in the courts. It is important to note, however, given Judge Armstrong's decision last year, that the Solbergs currently have little incentive to make any concession at this time. In the past, the Solbergs have demonstrated an unwillingness to negotiate with either the State or the Township. Also, it is important to keep in mind that there are several family members with a stake in the matter, making negotiations a very difficult process.
When weighing the pros and cons of an appeal, taxpayers of the Township would benefit considerably if every effort were made to uphold the voter-supported 2006 bond referendum and also to pursue any avenue that can minimize or eliminate legal fees accrued through this ordeal. We are hopeful that the new makeup of the Township Committee offers an opportunity to resolve the situation with a fresh outlook and those priorities in mind.