Port of St. Helens buys back property it sold to Premier Jets, Inc. of Hillsboro

A jet ambulance company expected to relocate to Scappoose has backed out of plans to develop here.

Port of St. Helens commissioners voted Wednesday, May 23, to approve a buyback agreement with Premier Jets Inc. for property the company purchased from the port in June 2017.

The buyback agreement means the port will buy the space adjacent to the Scappoose Industrial Airpark back from Premier Jets at the same $500,000 price it sold for.

PHOTO COURTESY OF PREMIER JETS - Premier Jets, a company that provides air ambulance services, was slated to develop a new airplane hangar and office space in Scappoose.Port commissioners and staff said Wednesday that the company's plans to build a large hangar and office space in Scappoose didn't pencil out. They suspect the high costs of building are heavily impacted by fire safety codes for hangars, which require a fire suppression system. Some hangars, depending on the size and nature of aircraft being stored, are required to install either a foam or water fire suppression system, according to Oregon Structural Specialty Code documents.

"It's very unfortunate," said Paula Miranda, deputy executive director of the Port, of the plans that fell through. "I was talking to a broker [who does business] with the airport and they're definitely concerned about that and how it could impact economic development around that area."

A resolution approving the buyback agreement indicates the jet company opted out of the development "due to increased construction prices affected by new fire codes."

Craig Allison, the port's facilities manager, said the agency has lost two potential tenants due to high construction costs of airplane hangars. Another company that approached the port about developing recently, Devinaire, also decided not to move forward after learning the costs of installing fire suppression systems, Allison noted.

"Overall, building costs are certainly higher," Allison noted, "But a big outlier was the extra cost for a fire safe aircraft maintenance area."

Allison said the port has no plans to build its own facility at the site.

Premier Jets officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Commissioner Robert Keyser said the port has reached out to Sen. Betsy Johnson, whose district includes the port district, about what can be done at the state level to address the code's impact on small businesses.

"We've lost two businesses now," Keyser noted, adding he and other commissioners hoped to see the fire code regulations addressed to prevent more aviation businesses from turning down development and business growth opportunities.

Premier Jets, which offers air ambulance services for patients in need of critical care, transport of vital organs, and other private jet ambulance services, is currently based in Hillsboro. The company bought property from the port with intentions of developing a $4.6 million site in Scappoose and employing about 17 people at the site. The company was even granted enterprise zone benefits for five years, which would have allowed the company to forgo property tax payments in exchange for building in the area and employing people at wages higher than the county's average salary.

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