House bill to challenge port control of Troutdale Airport
A newly-proposed bill would unhook the Troutdale Airport from the Port of Portland, which currently operates the regional airfield just west of the Sandy River.
House Bill 2715 would create an independent, nine-person governing board for TTD — the airport's station code — and allow the Troutdale Airport Authority to collect and spend the revenue generated by its property.
The airport would technically remain a division of the Port of Portland, whose ruling commission is appointed directly by the governor. The airport currently loses about $500,000 to $1 million a year, according to a 2016 planning document.
Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, introduced the bill in the Oregon House on Monday, Jan. 9. With support from Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, the bill would also divorce the Hillsboro flyway from Oregon's regional transportation authority.
"Having watched this for a long time, my impression has been that the Port of Portland is interested in PDX and in their port facility and in being an industrial landlord," Rep. Gorsek said in an interview. "But they don't seem to have that much interest in the operation of the Troutdale airport. It's kind of like they're an afterthought."
The bill, which resides in the Transportation Committee, wouldn't grant the new airport commission any direct taxing authority, but it would allow the board to propose bonds to voters.
All elected members would serve for four-year terms and be required to live in Multnomah County. If passed, Gov. Kate Brown would appoint all initial members. No term limits are proposed for the positions, which would be unpaid.
The Port, which has operated TTD since 1942, said it wasn't involved in the drafting of the legislation.
"These general aviation airports are not financially self-sufficient," cautioned chief spokesman Steve Johnson in an email. "While we are still analyzing the potential impacts of the bills, we are unclear what issues the bills solve. We also have concerns about creating additional layers of government for managing the airports, and possible unintended impacts on revenue streams currently supporting the airports."
Johnson said regardless of any legislation, the FAA would still control regulatory matters like aircraft noise.
Troutdale and Hillsboro airports are considered "reliever" runways for Portland International Airport, Johnson said, which allows the Port to subsidize their costs. He isn't sure this funding arrangement could continue if the airports are given a new form of government.
There's more propelling Gorsek's legislation than bureaucratic turf squabbles between Portland and Troutdale.
A master plan accepted by the Port in 2016 would shave 900 feet from the length of Troutdale's landing strip, while its width would be cut in half, dropping to 75 feet from 150. The still-controversial haircut has irked local pilots from the cockpit to the control tower.
"Once you cut that airport down, you will never ever get it back," predicted Mike Rhodes, an East Gresham pilot who flies a single-engine two-seater he built from a kit.
Rhodes, who runs the Save Troutdale Airport Facebook page, said Gorsek's bill earned a solid "thumbs up" from him, though he'd like to see the proposed commission's charter explicitly protect local interests.
"Members of the board as you say, must have 'skin in the game,'" agreed Greg Lehman, owner of Advanced Aircraft Services, which operates out of Troutdale. "Having the initial members, hand picked by the Governor, will only serve to have the authority filled with bureaucrats who will continue to serve in the interests outside of the operation of the airport."
Gorsek believes an independent commission might decide to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration, which hasn't fully accepted the Port's runway-shortening designs.
"An independent board might be more inclined to do that," he said. "I doubt that Port of Portland's board will ever do that."
Gorsek staffer Jason Hitzert called the legislative process "slow," admitting that lawmaking on this issue will probably take several sessions.
"Rep. Gorsek's participation in this legislation is meant to open a dialog with the Port that allows for additional leverage on a negotiation that was all but over," he said