Oklahoma Aeronautics Commissioners prolonged the life of Lake Murray State Park Airport in Ardmore on Thursday despite the request of the state Tourism and Recreation Department — and the commission's own director — to close the rarely used airstrip.
The commission considered asking the Federal Aviation Administration to close the facility, which is adjacent to Lake Murray Lodge and Lake Murray Golf Course. The Aeronautics Commission and Tourism Department are joint sponsors of the site.
But after debating the airport's viability and usefulness, commissioners voted 6-0 against closing it — going against commission Director Victor Bird's recommendation.
Their concerns included giving up the ability to accept $150,000 in federal money each year, in the form of non-primary entitlement funds, that can be transferred to other airports. Roughly $1 million has been received since 2001, not including $600,000 in the bank that probably will be transferred next year.
In addition, the airport has accepted nearly $184,000 in grants from the FAA since 2002, after agreeing to keep the airport open for at least 20 years. The most recent was in 2007. If the contract terms aren't met, it's likely the grant money would have to be repaid.
The FAA, on July 16, asked the commission to delay action while the agency conducts an 18-month study of general aviation airports across the nation.
“I have grave concerns about moving forward,” Bird said before the vote. “We have an excellent relationship with the FAA.” Despite his concerns, he recommended they join the Tourism Department and seek closure — if the executive director of the Tourism Department agrees to share equally any funds that have to be repaid to the FAA. Later, Bird said he felt torn about the decision.
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