David Frank Dempsey
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Owners of Safari Real Estate LLC in Gentry were back in court Thursday seeking to have a two-month-old jury verdict overturned on grounds that Leon Wilmoth, who represented his extended family in their dealings with SWEPCO, was not actually named as manager in the real estate company’s charter.
The attempt to gain a new trial failed when, after a few hours of legal arguments, Judge Brad Karren ruled that the technical mistake had caused no harm and was basically made in good faith during the two-day-long trial held in October in Karren’s Bentonville courtroom.
Following the ruling Thursday, Leon Wilmoth and his brother, Charles Wilmoth, said they will appeal the earlier jury verdict. Their attorney, Wayne Ackerman, had already filed the motion to appeal two weeks before Thursday’s hearing. Safari’s legal team for the appeal will be doubled with the addition of Sandy McMath as co-counsel with Ackerman. McMath sat through Thursday’s hearing acquainting himself with the case and SWEPCO opposition. Safari Real Estate LLC owns land occupied by the more than 50-year old Gentry Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari LLC, also owned by the Wilmoth family.
The earlier trial was brought by SWEPCO against the landowners because they refused to accept the power company’s offer of $37,000 for the taking by eminent domain of a 9.17-acre right-of-way across Safari land. The right-of-way was taken for construction of a 345 kiloVolt transmission line between the coal-powered Flint Creek power station and a substation at Shipe Road in Centerton.
The jury in the October trial sided, at least nominally, with the Wilmoths by upping the price of the right-of-way from $37,000 to $87, 539, still far short of the $399,000 in damages the Wilmoths say will be incurred by the exotic animal safari.
Leon Wilmoth said earlier the right-of-way will effectively shut down an entire 114-acre quadrant of the safari used as an exotic animal park and render useless the special fencing, barns, reservoirs and roads necessary for care of the animals.
Exotic animal parks are controlled by USDA regulations that require a trained animal handler or attendant to be present when the public (including power line workers) is in the vicinity of the animals. This, according to Leon Wilmoth, puts the USDA regulations into an impossible conflict with SWEPCO’s easement language that gives its workers unlimited access to the right-of-way.
The 14-mile transmission line from the Flint Creek power station to the Shipe Road substation is a first step in SWEPCO’s plans to build a 345 kiloVolt transmission line from Shipe Road across 50 miles of Carroll County to the Kings River near Berryville.
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