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New 66,000-square-foot facility

by: HOLLY M. GILL - With the shovel honors for Friday's groundbreaking were, from left, county commissioners Mike Ahern and John Hatfield, EDCO's County Director Janet Brown, Madras city council members Jim Leach, Tom Brown, Royce Embanks, Airport Manager Rob Berg, Museum Manager Mike Oliver, Madras Mayor Melanie Widmer and Community Development Department Director Nick Snead. City, county and airport officials were out in force Friday for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Erickson Aircraft Collection Facility at the Madras Municipal Airport.

The 64,000-square-foot facility, which will be located directly north of the 44,000-square-foot Aero Tanker facility, will be used to store Aero Tanker's MD-87s, as well as aircraft from the Tillamook Naval Air Station Museum.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Steve Thomas, right, president of the Erickson Group, and Mike Oliver, general manager of the Tillamook Naval Air Station Museum, each addressed the crowd at the groundbreaking."I want you all to know it's been a very positive last few months, getting the lease together," said Steve Thomas, president of the Erickson Group. "The city of Madras has been great. We're looking forward to being a part of the community."

Madras Mayor Melanie Widmer recalled that it was about 15 months ago when airport manager Rob Berg, City Administrator Gus Burril and Widmer visited Tillamook to see the museum.

Her main thought had been, "How can we help this happen, and how can we not screw it up," she said.

"This has only been made possible because of prior investments in our airport, public/private partnerships, and an unwavering commitment to economic development," she said.

Over the past 10 years, she said that the city and its partners — the Federal Aviation Administration, the Oregon departments of aviation, transportation and business, and Jefferson County — have invested $16.6 million in infrastructure and buildings at the airport.

"I have great pride reflecting on the commitment, dedication, and professionalism of this partnership that has propelled this project forward — pun intended," she said.

After the official groundbreaking, Mike Oliver, general manager of the Tillamook museum, said that there are 25 airplanes in Erickson's collection at the museum, most of which date back to World War II.

"They're all flying airplanes," said Oliver, who is a pilot. "Most aircraft in museums are static. Mr. Erickson has a passion for keeping his airplanes flying and flying them himself."

Erickson's lease of the 325,000-square-foot World War II blimp hangar, where the Tillamook museum is located, expires in December 2016, but the company could opt out of the lease early.

Oliver, who loves Central Oregon's sunny, warm weather, is looking forward to moving to Madras.

"We're trying to preserve the aircraft," he said, noting that the dry weather will be beneficial. "Salt air kind of deteriorates the aircraft."

Executive Vice President Tamra Dereiko, of Erickson Group, said the first phase of the project will be the hangar and support facility for Aero Tanker's MD-87 program. Aero Tanker is in the process of getting at least two of its fleet of seven MD-87s certified as airtankers for firefighting operations.

"All our energies are focused on getting the MD-87s up and flying," she said.

The second phase of the project will be to build out the facility for the museum attraction. Oliver said it will include airplanes, Jeeps, a tank, and "a lot of memorabilia" from World War II through the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Steele Associates Architects, of Bend, designed the facility, and CS Construction, of Bend will construct the building.

"It's going to be amazing," said Scott Steele, president of Steele Associates, which submitted the final design last week.

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