The Woodward News

Local News

July 30, 2012

City officials have questions about FAA report

Woodward, Okla. — City officials are "seeking answers" to a number of questions broached by a recent report issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding the West Woodward Airport.

According to an FAA report, which was received by city officials last week, the city "inappropriately transferred title to airport land to the [Woodward] municipal authority for industrial development purposes."

The findings were issued following a "land-use compliance inspection" that was conducted by Edward Chambers of the FAA on June 11 and June 12 at the airport.

The land in question involves 4 tracts totaling around 135 acres on the east side of the airport that the FAA released to the city in 1989.  The report states that the deed release for the 135 acres included a supplemental agreement that the parcels would be sold or leased for fair market value with the revenue to be used for airport capital or operating costs.

However, the report claims that agreement was not followed as the land was "almost immediately transferred" to the Woodward Municipal Authority (WMA) for "a nominal sum," with the WMA in turn selling or leasing the parcels.  "In each case proceeds from the sale or lease has gone to WMA instead of the airport," the report states.

The report goes on to note that this issue has "been in existence for several years."

That has prompted Woodward City Manager Alan Riffel to ask why it has become a problem now?

"Part of our concern is why other reports and inspections have not pointed out anything of this nature?" Riffel said.

The city manager said that even the report notes that after May 1999 the FAA "adopted a program to conduct annual land-use inspections at various airports where land was acquired through Federal assistance programs."

"We have been receiving those annual inspections," Riffel said, but noted the June visit "may have been a different type of inspection; FAA officials would be the ones to comment on that.  But those are partially the questions we are seeking answers to."

He said it will "require research of all the facts" before the city will be able to determine how it will respond to the issues raised by the FAA report.

"Obviously we're going to be reviewing the report in great detail," Riffel said.

He said that the "city attorney has already begun that research," by going over all the various records, including the 1989 agreement, which are referenced in the report.

The attorney is expected to share whatever information he gathers this week with city commissioners during an executive session at their regular meeting next Monday, Riffel said.

It won't be until after "the facts as we know them are laid out on the table" before the commissioners that the city will make any kind of decision about how to address the report and the 10 various "corrective actions" it says are required.

To correct the issue regarding the alleged inappropriate land transfers, the report states "Title to released airport property should be returned to the airport from other city departments or entities" and that "Rental for leases of airport property should be paid to the airport account."

The report goes on to state that the majority of these corrections "should be accomplished within 45 days."

Riffel said this is a "very short reaction time," especially considering the "far-reaching implications of these directives and how they might impact our community."

While he said he couldn't talk about specific implications until the report has been fully reviewed, the city manager did say things could become "complicated" for the city.

"When it talks about transferring title to properties that are in use by industries here, some for as long as 23 years, that leads to complicated issues that have to be resolved and determined," Riffel said.

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