Hillsboro Airport critic receives threatening anonymous letter
An unidentified sender allegedly mailed a threatening letter to a Washington County resident who has long been critical of the Hillsboro Airport and the flight schools based there for their environmental impacts.
Miki Barnes, founder of Oregon Aviation Watch, says she received a suspicious letter at her home, located 12 miles from the Hillsboro Airport, on Christmas Eve.
The letter was suspicious because it falsely listed Barnes' home address as its return address, Barnes said.
The letter's sender impersonated Barnes in a message inside the letter, encouraging aviation industry professionals to contact Barnes at her home and saying the message would be posted to local flight schools.
"Merry Christmas! Be seeing ya around!" the outside of the letter's envelope read.
Barnes founded Oregon Aviation Watch with her husband. The group runs a website where Barnes periodically posts research and information about environmental, health and economic impacts of local airports such as the Hillsboro Airport.
"The primary purpose of Oregon Aviation Watch is to research, educate and advocate on behalf of the public interest and public welfare about aviation issues," reads the Oregon Aviation Watch website.
The website lists "noise intrusions," "environmental pollution," "health risks" and "property devaluation" among the group's primary concerns. Barnes points to research showing how people who live close to airports are at an elevated risk of respiratory diseases, low birth weights and other health problems.
She often criticizes the use of leaded fuels in airplanes that use the Hillsboro Airport. The airport is Washington County's largest emitter of lead, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data from 2014.
The Hillsboro Airport, Oregon's second-busiest airport behind the Portland International Airport, is run by the Port of Portland. The airport is home to local corporate flight departments, aircraft charter services, air ambulance services and flight schools, among other uses.
The letter's use of Barnes' home address as a return address and the sender's attempt to impersonate Barnes in the message may constitute mail fraud, which is a federal crime.
Barnes says she filed complaints with the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the FBI. A Washington County Sheriff's Office spokesperson said Monday, Jan. 4, that there isn't an open investigation into the incident.
Under the header "Oregon Aviation Watch," the letter's message said, "I am leading the effort to make Aviation accountable to the rest of us. I am sure you all appreciate all I have been doing to bring an out-of-control nuisance under citizen control. Some of my accomplishments include spreading (mis) information re: lead poisoning in the air caused by so much unnecessary around the area, using ADS-B and Flight Aware to track and harass local pilots."
ADS-B and Flight Aware are publicly available services used to track aircraft flights.
Barnes says she has used flight tracking services to identify which flight schools are most active. But she has never used the services to contact individual pilots, she says.
Barnes has accused Hillsboro Airport-based flight school instructors of intentionally circling her home during flights to harass her. She points to flight tracking services to support her accusations.
The letter's sender claimed they intend to post the same message falsely signed by Barnes to flight schools.
"Posted at all flight schools in the region. Enjoy!" was handwritten on the outside envelope.
"Miki — One good harassment deserves another. What goes around comes around," was typed on the envelope.
The letter encouraged people to call, write and go to Barnes's house, the address of which Barnes has never made public, she says.
"I need to hear feedback from the industry as to how my efforts are working," the letter continued. "Please feel free to call, write or stop by my house (conveniently located near the Banks NDB — I know, a very stupid place to live when I hate aviation) to discuss my activities to put you all out of business and on the ground where you all belong."
Hillsboro Aero Academy, one flight school based at the Hillsboro Airport, did not return a request for comment from the Pamplin Media Group.
Kama Simonds, a spokesperson for the Port of Portland, said the Hillsboro Airport hasn't received any letters similar to the one Barnes received.
"We're sorry to hear this happened to Ms. Barnes," Simons said in a statement. "We do not condone the actions of the person or people who sent the letter. No one should be subjected to harassment, particularly at their home. Each of us has a right to voice our views and not be subjected to harassment by others."
Bob Stark, owner of the Twin Oaks Airpark, a small, private airport in unincorporated Washington County that also has a flight school, said he hasn't received any letters appearing to impersonate Barnes.
Barnes has also been critical of the Twin Oaks flight school.
Barnes says while the letter was upsetting, it won't discourage her from speaking out about the Hillsboro Airport and flight schools based there.
She posted a message about the letter on the Oregon Aviation Watch website on Dec. 27.
"The reason we decided to put out that posting on the letter very publicly is to let whoever sent it know that their threats are not going to shut us up," Barnes said in an interview. "Where is this person's courage? Why are they anonymous? Why aren't they speaking out and engaging in a dialogue rather than issuing threats?"
Barnes says doesn't know who would have sent the letter or why it would come now. She says a recent Oregon Aviation Watch posting that was critical of local flight schools for receiving loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program could have motivated the sender.
Barnes has never experienced a similar threat. She says a pilot told her a few years ago he was going to target her home on training flights.
Barnes has little hope the sender of the letter will be identified. She said she and her husband plan to increase security measures at their home.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include statements from a Port of Portland spokesperson.
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