Woodlake lands municipal airport deal

By Reggie Ellis

Woodlake now has a municipal airport.

Escrow closed on Oct. 12 for the City of Woodlake's purchase of the 84-acre airport just south of the city from Budget Hoes Inc. and owner, Thelma Venturella, for $600,000. City Administrator Bill Lewis cautioned that the purchase does not mean the airport will be up to city standards any time soon.

&#8220This was important for the city,” City Administrator Bill Lewis said. &#8220If you don't have an airport you are never going to get one.”

The city will still need to approach the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a grant of about $5.5 million to improve the runway, safety lighting, towers, beacons and clear obstacles near the runway. Lewis said trees growing near the end of the runway are obstacles to the flight path of planes. Municpally owned airports have a more competitive chance at qualifying for improvement funding through the FAA.

The airport is primarily used by private citizens flying small planes. When the fog is dense in Visalia, cargo carriers such as FedEx are rerouted to Woodlake. Currently those companies 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.

&#8220We are trying to find out what it would take besides the fog to get them to land here,” 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 city began looking at the property about four years ago and completed an airport masterplan in 2004. The city never had the money to purchase the property, so 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 Agency.

Because the property lies on the St. Johns River, where nearly all of the city's wells are located, it will supply the city with sites for two additional water 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. Lewis said the city is working with a company to offer rental cars for private pilots who fly to visit Sequoia National Park and even the city's own Bravo Lake Botanical Garden. The idea is also that people who own their own planes do have some expendable income and may be willing to spend some of that in Woodlake. Lewis said the hope is to generate economic development by having a quality airport nearby to attract related businesses such as airplane mechanics, maintenance and painting.

The Woodlake City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month in council chambers at City Hall, located at 350 N. Valencia Blvd.

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