Woodward officials ordered to remove gun range from airport property

A Federal Aviation Administration compliance manager has written a pointed letter to the mayor of Woodward in northwestern Oklahoma directing the city to remove an unauthorized gun range from West Woodward Airport property and cease illegally diverting airport revenue.
by Randy Ellis Published: July 27, 2012
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— 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.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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