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Grand Jury Exploring Airport Matters - FAA Still Wants More Info
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The Stanislaus Civil Grand Jury has made a formal request to the City of Oakdale for records pertaining to the operation and maintenance of Oakdale Municipal Airport according to an Aug. 27 letter shared by Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer.

“We welcome the opportunity to present any and all airport information to the Grand Jury,” said Whitemyer on Sept. 5. “We want to be as transparent as possible.”

Earlier this year the city was notified of a Federal Aviation Administration investigation regarding accusations it was violating portions of its grants assurances sections as it applied to the condition and operation of the facility. That complaint surrounded four violations of three separate grant assurance sections regarding economic nondiscrimination, operations and maintenance, and its fee and rental structure.

“The Grand Jury doesn’t say we’re ‘under investigation’ so much as they’re just requesting information,” Whitemyer said. “It’s really no different than a Public Information Request.”

Whitemyer said he was unaware of any Grand Jury subpoenas or summons issued to any city personnel.

The Grand Jury letter comes on the heels of a letter received by the city from the FAA dated Aug. 22 which stated that their May 5 response to their original investigation demonstrated that the city “…has adequately planned or implemented actions to maintain the safe and efficient operations of the airport.”

The FAA’s letter, by Airports Compliance Specialist Robert Lee, notified the city that their May 5 response, however, lacked sufficient information to make a determination regarding the non-aeronautical use of facilities by Sierra West Airlines and the accusation of charging “unequitable or too low of rental rates to certain airport tenants.”

In March 2013, the Oakdale City Council voted to raise rents for all the airport hangar tenants, but city officials later cut a closed-door deal with Sierra West allowing the business to pay only $1350 per hangar rent for each of the two facilities that the council announced were going to be billed at $2,000 each or $4,000 total.

Sierra West has been mentioned by many airport tenants for not strictly operating aeronautical activities at the Laughlin Road facility. Even the city has acknowledged that the company only uses two of its three rented hangars for airport activities, using one for storage for its family-owned property rental business.

A July 28 article in The Leader also revealed that Sierra West Vice-President Kyra Robinson-Busam was using the Sierra West offices to conduct a real estate/property management business within the facility.

The FAA also requested clarification on the “actual cost” of the airport’s liability insurance, explaining that their information showed the city only paid $3,800 from the state’s annual grant but listed amounts of $14,000 to $16,000 on their budgets.

“The $3,800 is the liability insurance for crashes and other liabilities of the airport, not necessarily the hangars,” Whitemyer said, explaining that the $14,000 to $16,000 was a small portion of the city-wide premium. “I can’t speak to other cities or airports, but just in liability insurance from our general fund is over $100,000.”

Whitemyer explained that the city belonged to a 56-city pool for workman’s compensation and liability insurance known as the San Joaquin Risk Management Authority.

“In the eyes of the FAA we’re still in good standing since we’re getting accepted for grant funding,” Whitemyer said.

In the last two years the city has received, or is in the process of receiving, grants totaling over $550,000 including one recently for $58,000 for erosion control and a $397,000 grant late last year for security fencing and taxiway modifications.