City of Woodlake purchases airport

By Reggie Ellis

The City of Woodlake is in escrow for 84 acres just south of the city on which the Woodlake Airport is located.

The airport is currently owned by Budget Homes Inc. and owner Thelma Venturella who negotiated a price of about $600,000. City Manager Bill Lewis said municipally owned airports have a more competitive chance at qualifying for improvement funding through Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants. He said if the FAA is willing to work with the city, the airport will be brought up to code and leased to a private entity to operate.

"There is not a lot of money to be made in airports," Lewis said. "The money is made off of airport related industries such as maintaining and repairing planes and flight schools."

The airport is used mostly by private citizens flying small planes. Lewis said when the fog is dense in Visalia, cargo carriers such as FedEx are rerouted to Woodlake. Currently those company's do not pay landing fees normally charged at municipal airports. Hanger and tie-down fees could also be charged or increased after repairs have been made.

Lewis said if the city cannot qualify for FAA funding then the airport will most likely continue to deteriorate and eventually be de-certified. The airport's runway is littered with potholes and much of the other facilities need to be repaired and modernized. The problem is that, like everyone else, the FAA has more people asking for money that it has to give out.

"For every $1,000 requested there is only $100 to give out," Lewis said. "At this point we are least on the list for funding."

The city began looking at the property about four years ago and completed an airport masterplan. But the city has never had the money to purchase the property, which is why the purchase was made by the Woodlake Redevelopment Agency by issuing tax allocation bonds funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development department. A public hearing on the funding process will be held at the May 23 Woodlake City Council meeting. Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month in council chambers at Woodlake City Hall, located at 350 N. Valencia Blvd.

Because the property lies on the St. Johns River, it will supply the city with sites for two wells needed for future growth of the city.

Lewis said there is also a small possibility of generating some tourism interest with the small airport if a rental car company could be persuaded to come to the airport.

"People who may want to fly in and go to Sequoia National Park will need transportation after they land," he said.

Lewis said the hope is to generate economic development by having a quality airport nearby to attract businesses.

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