Written by Steve Switzer, Charbonneau Civic Affairs.
Recently, someone asked me, “What do I really need to know about the airport issue?”
My first draft response took 14 pages. A little excessive? Ok. I went ahead and cut it down to 10. Then I received an e-mail from the Oregon Department of Aviation (ODAV). It summarized in one line what we here in Charbonneau really need to know. It also confirmed what former CCC President Tony Holt had been saying for the last eight years of his life.
The e-mail from the ODAV said that the “Oregon Aviation Board (OAB) never approved or adopted the 2012 Airport Master Plan.” In addition, Marion County never adopted the plan into their Comprehensive Plan. Both are required by Oregon law. Let that sink in for just a minute. The 2012 Airport Master Plan included a proposed 1,000 foot runway extension based on estimates and projections for future jet use. The plan forecast the Aurora State Airport would double the number of operations by 2022 and triple the number of based jets by 2030. Using projections that were partially based upon “pilot surveys” and a term called “constrained operations,” the ODAV applied for a $35 million dollar grant from the FAA for the proposed runway extension. The FAA approved the plan, but not the funds.
When the 2012 Plan was presented, Mr. Holt, along with many others, pointed out the many flaws in its reasoning, the process, and its conclusions. The ODAV pressed on claiming it was all done correctly. In 2019, the OAB held a hearing in Bend on the issue and the ODAV assured the aviation board that they followed all of the correct procedures. However, several groups, including the City of Wilsonville, filed an appeal with the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). LUBA declined to rule on the matter so the case was appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. In a detailed decision last summer, the Court ruled that the Master Plan violated multiple state laws and administrative rules. In addition, the plan allowed for a “larger class of airplane” and also extended the runway beyond the current airport boundaries into land zoned EFU. Not satisfied and still claiming that the plan was done correctly, the ODAV appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. In record time, the Supreme Court agreed unanimously with the lower court. Then, on April 11, LUBA remanded the entire 2012 Master Plan back to the ODAV. Now, after losing in both the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court, they now admit that the 2012 plan is invalid. And, to top it off, the backup material for the 2012 plan (also required by state law) “cannot be located.” Thank you Mr. Holt and others that have been working on this issue for the past decade.
No matter what your position is on the airport, we can all agree that our state agencies should be the first to follow the law. Mr. Holt always said that he had no issue with the airport as long as the ODAV followed state law in future planning. We are directly impacted by such planning. My responsibility representing Charbonneau is to raise issues presented in the current 2022 Master Plan process that have a direct effect on our community. We would assume that the ODAV will follow Oregon law, especially since they were called out for not doing so in the 2012 plan. So far, I have yet to be convinced, but I am a hopeless optimist.
Here are the current issues that we are concerned about:
- The FAA has specific guidelines for public involvement in the planning process. So far, those have not been followed. Did you know that the ODAV conducted a survey of “surrounding communities” in March? For some reason, very few in Charbonneau were contacted.
- Over half of the “Public Advisory Committee” is made up of businesses that have a direct financial interest in expanding the airport.
- The ODAV has a direct financial interest in expanding the airport since most of its revenue comes from taxes on aviation fuel sales.
- Previous forecasts for aircraft activity have been inflated by almost 20%. These forecasts relate directly to the ODAV’s argument to the FAA for the need of a longer runway.
- The current forecast for future based jet aircraft differs by over 25% from a study done just 3 years ago. Right now, they project over 50 jets will be based at Aurora by the end of the decade.
- Even after 10 years, there are no real numbers as to the economic benefit that increased airport use has on our area, only assumptions. They tout the number of employees at the various businesses, but make no provisions for the impact that has on our surrounding roads.
- There has been no updated environmental assessment of the impact the current airport operations have on the ground water, air, or “forever” chemicals. The expansion plan is also contrary to the Governor’s climate change goals. Yet, cities and counties across the state are expected to follow the Governor’s guidelines.
- Developers at the airport resist efforts by the City of Aurora to annex to the city, even though they wish to continue developing the land around the airport that impacts the city and surrounding area. This is contrary to state land use goals.
- The ODAV continues to resist cooperating with Clackamas County and the City of Wilsonville in forming a joint government agreement to manage the development.
Citizens of Oregon expect more from their government. We take no issue with the businesses and aircraft operators at Aurora. They have been granted an incredible opportunity through legislation passed in 2005 commonly known as “through the fence.” They get to use taxpayer funded airport facilities at absolutely no charge, skirt land use rules for their developments of large corporate hangers and office space, and pay little or no attention to the impacts to the neighborhood.
It is more than noise and flyovers. For those that know me, you have seen me get a little carried away with this issue. And, I appreciate the comments that many of you have shared with me. I did not know Mr. Holt very well, but now I know where his passion came from. He believed, like I do, that my government can do better. And that is what we really need to know about the airport issue.
Decisions made in this Master Plan will affect Charbonneau residents for many years. The CCC Board wants residents 20 years from now to know that we did everything we could to represent their interests in that process.
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Comment added by Friends of French Prairie:
Only one thing might be added to Steve’s well written article on the Aurora Airport subject, and that’s because it’s one of those “you had to have been there…” to appreciate it kind of things.
Eight or ten years ago, during a meeting about the 2012 Master Plan, we were discussing constrained operations. Tony Holt was very knowledgeable about aviation even though he wasn’t a pilot, because he was responsible for aviation operations for the oil company he worked for overseas. The discussion went back and forth about how many constrained operations really occurred and what really qualified as a constrained operation, and finally Tony asked a question. “Do you want to know what is really ironic?”
We all looked at him for the answer. “The airport people are all so focused on constrained operations as a means to get funding to lengthen the runway and expand the airport that they are completely missing the most important fact. What’s really constrained at Aurora is the airport!”
By which, of course, he meant an old airport wedged between two busy arterial roads that really doesn’t have the room for expansion… notwithstanding the efforts by all the aviation interests to do so!
Source: Charbonneau Villager & Comment by Friends of French Prairie 6.9.22