Saturday, July 28, 2012

Federal Aviation Administration tells city of Woodward to remove gun range near West Woodward Airport (KWWR), Oklahoma

Woodward officials ordered to remove gun range from airport property 

WOODWARD — A Federal Aviation Administration compliance manager has written a pointed letter to the mayor of Woodward directing the city to remove an unauthorized gun range from West Woodward Airport property and cease illegally diverting airport revenue. 

The outdoor trap shooting range is in the line of approach to one runway, about a half mile from where the runway starts. It is also in the air traffic pattern of another runway, the FAA said in its land use inspection report.

FAA officials said they wrote a letter to the gun range’s sponsor in 1989 objecting to a city proposal to locate the gun range on airport land.

“Apparently, the city did it anyway,” the report said. “This use cannot be excused.”

Airport manager Rory Hicks said airplanes are typically flying anywhere from 20 feet to 800 feet above the ground when they pass directly over the gun range, depending on whether they are coming in for landings or in air traffic patterns.

Hicks said he didn’t normally give the gun range a lot of thought when landing, but “occasionally I would look down and think, ‘What if?’”

“There’s always the possibility of something happening,” he said.

“Years back, I worked construction, and I had a quail hunter shoot my flood lights out of the motor grader I was operating. I never dreamed that would have happened either, but it did. There is always something that can happen, especially in aviation.”

The airport doesn’t have airline service, but it’s not unusual for more than 100 aircraft fly in and out of the airport in a month, including a number of executive jets and oil company jets, Hicks said. The airport is busy because of booms in wind energy and oil industries, he said. About 50 aircraft were on the field Friday afternoon.

City Manager Alan Riffel said the gun range has been there about 20 years and is seldom used.

“Obviously, we’ll comply with the directions of the FAA,” Riffel said, adding he had not yet seen the FAA letter and report.
Inspection report

The inspection report was highly critical of the City of Woodward for taking airport land that the federal government had released to it and “inappropriately” transferring that property to the Woodward Municipal Authority for a nominal amount. The authority then resold or leased the properties “for less than fair market value” to various businesses as part of the city’s economic development efforts, the report indicated.

“Nonaviation city use of airport property at less than fair market value is illegal airport revenue diversion,” Edward Chambers, FAA compliance program manager, wrote in his letter to Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill.

Agreements between the city and federal government require that proceeds from lease of airport property be used for “airport purposes,” he stated.

It does not appear the airport has been receiving the lease revenue, the report said.

The report raised concerns about the way the city handled transactions that resulted in the sale of land to an underwear manufacturing plant and lease of land to a chemical company and a petroleum pipe storage yard. It also said the airport receives no revenue from a juvenile detention facility and portable structure manufacturing business on airport land released by the federal government in 1989.

An airport hangar was scrapped, and part of a stockpile of milled asphalt from a runway project was sold or given away without the airport receiving any of the salvage proceeds it should have gotten, the report indicates.

“It appears that about half to two-thirds of the stockpile has been removed from the airport with little, if any, compensation to the airport,” the report said. “One estimate of the missing asphalt put the amount at 3,850 tons or roughly $77,000 worth of material.”

The city manager told The Oklahoman he doesn’t believe nearly that much asphalt material was taken.

The missing asphalt was the subject of an investigation by the Woodward County district attorney’s office earlier this year, but so far no charges have been filed.

During the course of that investigation, Assistant City Manager Douglas Haines reportedly told an investigator that under Haines’ authorization and without contacting airport officials, the city had sold asphalt millings from the airport to three different entities, including Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard Inc., of Fargo, and the city had received $428.82 from the feed yard.

Haines told the investigator he discontinued sales after an Airport Board official told him he couldn’t give away or sell the millings without jeopardizing federal grant funds, according to the investigative report that was released to The Oklahoman.

First Assistant District Attorney A. J. Laubhan told The Oklahoman on Friday that he has not yet seen the FAA report but plans to review it to see whether any state crimes have been committed.

If there are any crimes, they may be federal crimes since a federal agency is involved, he said.

If so, it would be up to federal prosecutors to determine whether charges are warranted.
City’s instructions

Meanwhile, the FAA is asking the City of Woodward to take corrective action.

“Relocation of the gun range should be accomplished within 90 days of receipt of this letter,” the report says.

Within 45 days, the city is being asked to:

•Credit the airport fund with the full fair market value of the removed milled asphalt and salvage value of the scrapped hangar.

•Return title to the airport of airport property from other city departments and entities.

•Make rental income for leases of airport property payable to the airport account.

•Ensure leases for airport property for non-aeronautical uses are for at least fair market value.

•Get a travel trailer and a cargo trailer removed from airport property.

Hicks, the airport manager, said there has been controversy in Woodward for several years over whether the airport should have been receiving the money from the lease and sale of airport property.

“I’m really hoping that this will be resolved and the airport will get what it is due,” he said.

Land use at the West Woodward Airport was examined by the FAA under an inspection program that was instituted in response to a 1999 General Accounting Office report titled, “Unauthorized Land Use Highlights Need for Improved Oversight and Enforcement.”

Data from the Woodward inspection, along with data collected from inspections of other airports found to be out of compliance, is to be presented in an Annual Airport Improvement Program Report to Congress.

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