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"Oklahoma officials ordered to remove gun range from airport property"



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Woodward officials ordered to remove gun range from airport property 
BY RANDY ELLIS
The Oklahoman


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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