The Oregon State Legislature's Emergency Board approved the Oregon Department of Aviation's $37 million Federal Aviation Administration grant application to extend the Aurora Airport runway from 5,000 to 6,000 feet at a meeting Friday, Dec. 14.
Now that the grant has received state approval, the FAA will decide whether to approve the application as part of a $1 billion federal grant program, which does not require the State of Oregon to match funds.
The ODA and advocates of the extension believe it would improve safety and increase flight frequency and economic activity at the airport. The E-Board did not discuss the decision to approve the application during the Dec. 14 meeting but did so when it initially considered the proposal in September. Then, most legislators who spoke expressed approval.
"That runway needs to be extended and if there's an opportunity to receive federal money to do it, that would be a terrific thing," State Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) said at the September meeting.
Amid pushback from the City of Wilsonville over the lack of public involvement in the process, the E-Board decided in September to push the decision until December so that Oregon Solutions, a Portland State University mediation program, could conduct an analysis of the situation.
The Oregon Solutions analysis didn't provide a recommendation to the E-Board but suggested that project stakeholders bring in third party experts, review land use rules, conduct seismic review, improve communication among interest groups and implement more organized aviation planning.
"Lack of clarity about a long-term vision has created opportunity for conflict, and contributed to a sense among some that each decision will result in 'opening the door' to other potential changes. While it is impossible to predict the future and any plan is subject to amendment when facts on the ground change, a regional aviation asset planning could be beneficial in this instance," the assessment read.
However, the E-Board mentioned but did not discuss the contents of the report at the hearing.
"I was disappointed they did not consider the importance of reading and absorbing Oregon Solutions' report after putting so many people through that work (to complete the report) before deciding what to do," Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said.
Knapp and the City of Wilsonville has long fought expansion at the airport and has wanted a greater say in airport planning. The City even recently held a public hearing where all sides aired out their opinions and those testimonies were provided to Oregon Solutions.
Project not a go
Though the E-Board's decision was a setback in Wilsonville's push to scuttle plans to extend the runway, Knapp has reason to believe the FAA might not approve the application.
According to a recent FAA report, the Aurora Airport does not meet FAA requirements for "priority consideration" to receive grant funds. The Eugene, North Bend, Medford and Redmond airports are "primary" airports that meet that criteria while 10 other airports are non-primary airports that meet the criteria.
"I was a little surprised that came to light and that being the case, it would appear to me that if the aviation group intends to be successful they need to make a strong case for why they should be included," Knapp said. "I have not seen anything that would appear to be a thoughtful reasoning of why Aurora should be considered, being absent from the primary or secondary list."
Regardless, Knapp wanted the ODA and other stakeholders to implement some of Oregon Solutions' recommendations regarding public involvement.
"I don't think it is a high probability that they (the ODA) would be successful. It's possible they would be successful," Knapp said about the ODA's grant application. "If they are there's a lot more public outreach, transparency and discussion with stakeholders that needs to happen and that's also true if they don't receive the award."
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