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AGO 1963 No. 43 - July 31, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- AERONAUTICS COMMISSION ‑- AUTHORITY TO SELL PROPERTY ‑- PROCEEDS ‑- COMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL GRANT.

The state aeronautics commission has the authority (1) to sell property located on an emergency airfield granted to the state by the federal government; and (2) to place the proceeds in a special fund from which expenses of improvements on the airfield may be paid when the federal grant of such property requires the proceeds be so expended.

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                                                                    July 31, 1963

Honorable William A. Gebenini
Director, Washington State
Aeronautics Commission
Civil Defense Building
East Martin Way
Olympia, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 43

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May the Washington state aeronautics commission sell property located on emergency airfield granted to the state by the federal government and place the proceeds in a special fund from which expenses of improvements on such airfield may be paid when the federal grant of such property requires that the proceeds from the sale of such property must be used to improve such emergency airfield?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your letter requesting this opinion informed us of background information which we believe should be set forth here.  In your letter you stated:

            "For several years the State of Washington, acting through the Aeronautics Commission, has engaged in a cooperative program with the Federal Government to establish emergency airfields in  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] isolated areas of this State.  In the program the Federal Government has granted to the State surplus Federal properties which the State has then developed into emergency airfields.  The Federal grants have contained two provisos of interest here, one of which requires that any proceeds received as a result of the sale or leasing of any properties or improvements thereon which are a part of the Federal grant must be used for the improvement of such emergency airfields.  The other proviso requires that the airfields be maintained within certain minimum standards established by the Federal Aviation Agency.

            "Very recently the Aeronautics Commission has obtained a surplus airfield from the Federal Government at Quillayute Airfield on the Olympic Peninsula.  Proper maintenance of this airport requires that certain commercial quality timber be removed and that certain buildings surplus to the use of the airfield be dismantled.  Under the Federal requirements in the grant transferring title to the State, the proceeds from the sale of this property must be used on this or other emergency airfields and may not be paid into the general fund."

            The legal problems presented by your opinion request require our examination of the authority of the aeronautics commission in relation to the disposal of property owned by the state and used for aeronautics purposes.

            The applicable statute, RCW 14.04.100, reads in pertinent part as follows:

            ". . . The commission may by sale, lease, or otherwise, dispose of any such property, airport, air navigation facility, or portion thereof or interest therein.  Such disposal by sale, lease, or otherwise, shall be in accordance with the laws of this state governing the disposition of other property of the state. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            This statute, it appears, would clearly give the commission the authority to dispose of surplus property on emergency airfields operated by the state, subject to compliance with the laws of this state applicable to the disposition of other property owned by the state.

            Our attention must be directed, then, to the second portion of your question which relates to the use of the proceeds of such a sale.  One of the laws to which RCW 14.04.100 refers is chapter 73, Laws of 1963, which reads as follows:

            "The aeronautics commission is authorized to establish the necessary accounts or administrative procedures required by conditions attached to transfers of airport facilities from the federal government to the state of Washington."

            This statute clearly authorizes the aeronautics commission to establish the necessary accounts required by conditions attached to the federal transfers of airport facilities.

            A similar authorization of authority may be found in RCW 14.04.160, which reads as follows:

            "The commission is authorized to accept, receive, receipt for, disburse and expend federal moneys, and other moneys public or private, made available to accomplish, in whole or in part, any of the purposes of this section.  All federal moneys accepted under this section shall be accepted and expended by the commission upon such terms and conditions as are prescribed by the United States.  In accepting federal moneys under this section, the commission shall have the same authority to enter into contracts on behalf of the state as is granted to the commission under RCW 14.04.090 with respect to federal moneys accepted on behalf of municipalities.  All moneys received by the commission pursuant to this section shall be deposited in the state treasury, and, unless otherwise prescribed by the authority from which such moneys were received, shall be kept in separate funds designated according to the purposes for which the moneys were made available, and held by the state in trust for such purposes.  All such moneys are  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] are hereby appropriated for the purpose of which the same were made available, to be disbursed or expended in accordance with the terms and conditions upon which they were made available."

            The only distinction between chapter 73, Laws of 1963, and RCW 14.04.160 is that the first applies to transfers of federal aviation facilities, and the second to federal moneys granted to the state for aviation facilities.  Both statutes, however, contemplate the creation of special funds or accounts from which to pay the necessary expenses.  At least in this respect we believe the two statutes should be read pari materia to determine legislative intent.  See, for example,Seattle v. State, 54 Wn.2d 139, 338 P.2d 126 (1959).

            At this point, we should note that the funds received as a result of the sale of property received in the federal grant are not funds which, by Article VIII, § 4, of the Eleventh Amendment to our Constitution, are required to be appropriated.  They are, therefore, subject to legislative determination of the necessity of appropriation.  See,Yelle v. Bishop, 55 Wn.2d 286, 347 P.2d 1081 (1959).

            Turning then to the meaning of the phrase ". . . necessary accounts . . . required by conditions attached to transfers of airport facilities from the federal government . . .," you have informed us that:

            ". . . The Federal grants have contained two provisos of interest here, one of which requires that any proceeds received as a result of the sale or leasing of any properties or improvements thereon which are a part of the Federal grant must be used for the improvement of such emergency airfields. . . ."

            From your letter, it appears that the federal government has attached a condition to the grant of the airport premises.  When chapter 73, Laws of 1963, is read in light of this condition, it is our opinion that the legislature clearly intended to grant to the aeronautics commission the authority to establish a special account for the receipt and disbursement of funds pertaining to emergency airfields developed under the federal-state program.  Any other construction of chapter 73, Laws of 1963, would render the legislation a void and useless act.  This, of course, the courts are reluctant to do.  See, for example,Kelleher v. Ephrata School District No. 165, 56 Wn.2d 866, 355 P.2d 989 (1960).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Nothing herein should be construed as indicating that such a fund is outside the scrutiny of the auditor or exempt from other regulation of state law.  RCW 14.04.100, in fact, clearly indicates the contrary.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

R. TED BOTTIGER
Assistant Attorney General

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