Saturday, April 06, 2002

E-mail warned Hyundai of fight

Ky. man promised battle in court over land for plant

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Leon Howlett, whose family owns property in Hardin County that the state wanted for a proposed Hyundai plant, sent an e-mail in February to a spokesman for the Korean automaker warning of a long legal battle if the company tried to locate there.

        Hyundai Motor Co. this week announced it would build the plant in Montgomery, Ala., and Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton publicly blamed the Howletts for the loss. On Thursday, Mr. Patton's office released a copy of the Feb. 27 e-mail sent by Leon Howlett.

        In it, Mr. Howlett insisted that he and his family would not sell their land and would fight efforts to seize it for Hyundai's proposed plant in Glendale.

        The Howletts eventually agreed to sell their 111-acre farm for six times its appraised value just hours before Hyundai's decision to go to Alabama was announced.

        The plant will employ 2,000 and create an estimated 4,000 “spinoff” jobs in support industries once it opens in 2005. It is slated to eventually build 300,000 vehicles annually.

        “Hyundai lawyers must understand that if condemnation is pursued by our state we will fight (their) right to take our home,” wrote Mr. Howlett, whose mother, Norma, and brother, Paul, own the property. He added that a legal fight could extend beyond Hyundai's planned 2005 date for opening the plant and accused state officials of “dishonest and unjust” treatment of landowners whose property was being acquired for the site.

        Mr. Howlett did not elaborate.

        The e-mail added that while Kentucky officials might try to convince Hyundai negotiators that the Howletts wouldn't be a problem, “I can assure you we will be a problem.”

        The e-mail was sent “really out of desperation to try to communicate with Hyundai because obviously the state was not being forthcoming with us,” said Annette Howlett, Leon's wife.

        Leon Howlett said the e-mail was one of several he sent to Hyundai to convince officials he'd fight efforts to take the property.

        Hank Graddy, an attorney representing the Howletts, said he hadn't seen the e-mail and would talk to his clients about any response.

        Hyundai officials referred all questions about the e-mail to spokesman S.W. Park, who could not be reached for comment.

        Hyundai has largely remained mum on the Kentucky situation and instead focused on reasons it chose Alabama.

        The Howletts, who had long said they wouldn't sell their property, had at one point asked for $10 million. Hardin Fiscal Court began condemnation proceedings in February. Court-appointed commissioners valued the land at $1.1 million.

        About 4 p.m. Monday, the state and the Howletts finally agreed on an option for the state to acquire the land for $6 million, more than the state believes it is worth.

        Kentucky was able to get options to purchase the remaining 1,550 acres for about $17.3 million. Mr. Patton said Tuesday that the state would proceed with buying the land for future projects but would not go forward with paying $6 million for the Howlett property.


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