Despite airport items on recent agendas, the Oakdale Mayor and City Council claim they were not advised of an April complaint letter from the Federal Aviation Administration and the city’s May 5 response letter. Some of the agenda items approved by the council even included a quarterly street sweeping contract and $16,000 lighting upgrade to bring the airport up to standards addressed in the complaint.
“I was aware of Mr. (William) Bradford’s concerns but not that any complaint or action had been taken by the FAA,” said Councilman Don Petersen. “It wasn’t until I saw your (Oakdale Leader July 30) article that I knew there was any sort of letter, investigation, or that the city responded.”
On Thursday, July 31, Petersen showed up at the Leader offices to inquire about the airport article. He also asked to see the documents obtained by the Leader which included the April 14 FAA letter and Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer’s three-page response to four allegations that the FAA asked for.
“I’ve never seen these and I don’t think they were ever made available to the council,” Petersen said.
Petersen was appointed as the city council’s airport liaison to the airport committee on April 21 after Councilman Mike Brennan stepped down due to agitating comments made to tenants and what were perceived as threats to airport committee members. He said at the time he assumed the duties, he would have thought he would have been apprised of the FAA’s interest.
“I want to make sure the airport functions are transparent and it is operating transparently,” Petersen said. “I’m interested in the airport and realize that it can be dangerous if things aren’t kept up.”
Part of the FAA’s letter to the city regarding the complaint alleged that the airport is poorly maintained which included worn out gates, major tarmac damage and poor patching of the asphalt, and the existence of unpaved areas. The FAA cautioned the city that if the issues existed and were not corrected, the city would be in non-compliance of the grant assurances.
“I agree that some of these things started a long time ago, but that does not alleviate the condition to fix it,” Petersen said. “Sometimes you have to get money to make it safe.”
Petersen also examined documentation obtained which showed Sierra West Airlines Vice President Kyra Robinson-Busam operating a real estate business known as O27 Properties out of the Sierra West facility.
The FAA informal complaint also had listed that the city was allowing Sierra West Airlines the use of airport facilities for non-aeronautical purposes.
“Technically, it looks like they’re in violation of FAA rules,” Petersen said. “What can be done with it will be a topic of personal involvement as I go forward.”
Other council members were just as much unaware.
“I honestly don’t remember anything about this,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop when contacted Thursday evening, July 31. “If it was mentioned it may have been in passing and not mentioned with any seriousness.”
“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Councilman Farrell Jackson. “It’s (The letters) never been bought to our attention, openly or closed session.”
“I would think maybe we would be made aware of something like this,” Mayor Pat Paul said also on Thursday evening. “I don’t know what happened or if Bryan (Whitemyer) dropped the ball.”
“It was shared with the council,” said Whitemyer on Friday, Aug. 1 who was away on vacation but contacted the Leader after messages regarding the topic were left. “I told them about it in March and that it was minor in nature.”
When informed that the FAA’s letter was dated in April, Whitemyer said he reached out to FAA Airport Compliance Specialist Robert Lee about some of Bradford’s concerns at that time and was informed about an “informal complaint” and that a letter to the city was pending. After he spoke to Lee is when Whitemyer said he advised the council.
“I mentioned the informal complaint again to the council in an activity report I sent the council in April as well,” Whitemyer stated.
Whitemyer said because the complaint to the FAA was classified as “informal” he didn’t consider it all that serious.
“This whole thing is a very minor issue in my mind,” Whitemyer said. “This is not even an ‘investigation’ as you’re calling it. You’ve done two articles now and its much ado about nothing.”
During his visit to the Leader, Petersen vocalized his commitment to the airport and making it a viable part of the community.
Petersen said he had visited Sonora’s airport and was impressed with their operation.
“With appropriate attention, there’s no reason why Oakdale can’t be as vibrant as them,” Petersen said. “With the little resources we have, we still need someone to champion for our airport.”