The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 16, 2013

Judges weighing Flight 93 payment

The Tribune-Democrat

SOMERSET — A three-judge panel will weigh in soon on whether a Somerset County property owner was appropriately paid for the strip mine land where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.

With a trial now over in the case, a court-appointed panel of federal judges will have 30 days to issue an opinion on the matter, although the deadline does not start until a full transcript is complete from the trial’s five days of testimony and closing arguments, court staff said.

It can often take several weeks for transcripts to be completed.

The central issue: Somerset property owner Michael Svonavec argues he was underpaid by the government for his land, which was taken by the Department of the Interior through eminent domain in 2009.

Svonavec argued he developed plans to build a visitors center and other tourist draws on the Stonycreek Township land, but never got the opportunity to see it to fruition because the property has been in the government’s control since 9/11.

For years, it was held as a crime scene while investigators looked into crash. Then, Svonavec was given $611,000 for the property, which has since become a national memorial. Svonavec’s attorney has argued it is worth far more – $23 million.

The three-judge U.S. District Court panel in Pittsburgh is expected to give its opinion to U.S. Judge Donetta Ambrose, who would then render a final decision.