WOODWARD — The City of Woodard has closed an unauthorized gun range on West Woodward Airport property, but is disputing many other Federal Aviation Administration criticisms concerning the way it has been conducting business.
The city closed the unauthorized gun range after receiving a highly critical July 24 letter and report from the FAA, Woodward City Attorney Aaron Sims said in an August 20 letter to FAA officials.
“The gun range was closed immediately upon receipt of the report,” Sims stated. “The city is attempting to find a suitable alternate location.”
The FAA had ripped the city for allowing the gun range, stating that as far back as 1989 FAA officials had written a letter to the gun range's sponsor 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.”
In the city's response, Sims stated that the city was unable to confirm receipt of the 1989 letter.
“The city would like to inform the FAA that at the time the gun range was located at its current location, Runway 5-23 (the crosswind runway) had been abandoned for several decades,” Sims wrote. “This runway was reconstructed pursuant to FAA guidelines in approximately 2003-2004.”
Sims also noted the gun range was “used solely for skeet and trap shooting utilizing shotguns” and was not a rifle or hand gun range.
The gun range was a concern because it was located directly underneath the flight path that airplanes use to land on one of the airport's runways and circle for landings on others. Airport manager Rory Hicks said airplanes typically would be flying anywhere from 20 feet to 800 feet above the ground when they passed over the gun range.
The FAA report also was highly critical of the City of Woodward for taking land that the federal government had released to it and 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 said.
“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 July letter to Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill. The FAA said title to airport property should be returned to the airport from other city departments and entities.
In his response, Sims contends the city did nothing wrong in deeding the land to the Woodward Municipal Authority and that it has not illegally diverted airport revenue.
“It is clear, historically, that the city's general fund has provided the funds to pay the cost of airport operations in an amount far in excess of the fair market rental value of the released airport properties,” Sims said. Over the last 10 years, the operations at the airport have generated approximately $3.9 million, while the cost of airport operations was approximately $4.7 million ... On average, over the last 10 years, the city general fund has provided $80,000 per year for airport operations over and above the revenues generated by airport operations.