Wilsonville votes to intervene in airport master planning
Less than a week after Friends of French Prairie filed an appeal to the State of Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) over the authority of the 2012 Aurora Airport Master Plan, Wilsonville City Council decided it wants a say in the litigation process.
In two 4-1 decisions, Wilsonville City Council voted to submit testimony for a comment period regarding the process the Oregon Department of Aviation is undergoing to examine whether the Aurora Airport Master Plan complies with state land use laws, and agreed to file a motion to intervene in the LUBA case, which will preserve its rights to provide arguments once the case gets underway, during a meeting Monday, Sept. 16.
"We are basically treated as a party in the case. Not only does it allow us to file briefs but we can argue our position in the LUBA court. It basically puts us at the table for the discussion versus being put on the sidelines," Wilsonville Assistant City Attorney Amanda Guile-Hinman told the Spokesman.
While Councilor Ben West opposed the motions, Mayor Tim Knapp, Council President Kristin Akervall, and Councilors Joann Linville and Charlotte Lehan voted in favor of them. However, Guile-Hinman said the City will determine its position in the LUBA case after the ODA submits the case's record and briefings are filed.
"Once they (Friends of French Prairie) submit their briefing we can either elect to sign on to their position, we can submit our own position that's similar to theirs or we can say we disagree with what Friends of French Praisie are saying and here's our position," Guile-Hinman said.
Regarding the ODA's public comment period, the City will state its longstanding position that it wants Wilsonville and Clackamas County to be included in the intergovernmental agreement regarding master planning at the airport, wants a new master planning process to be initiated and wants Wilsonville, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Transportation to be included in future planning..
"I don't know what the arguments will look like. I don't know whether I will take a position later on or join some other party to that suit because those facts are yet to be determined," Knapp said. "I think it's prudent for us to preserve our ability to do so should we find it appropriate at that time."
City officials such as Knapp and Lehan have long opposed expansion of the Aurora Airport and have previously cited the loss of rural farmland, the impacts to Charbonneau residents, who complain of loud planes flying over the neighborhood in the middle of the night, and the potential impacts to traffic as reasons for their opposition.
"I have never opposed the airport the way it was, which is a rural airport for small aircraft," Lehan said. "If it's going to change to being a big airport bringing in big jets or much larger jets than currently are there … they have to ameliorate those impacts for the traffic, for the sewer, water, stormwater runoff, all the things that every other industry in the City of Wilsonville is required to do."
Councilor Ben West opposed both motions, stating his favorability toward the Aurora Airport, his belief that the Aurora Airport Master Planning process was properly done, his perception that a large portion of Wilsonville citizens support airport expansion efforts and what he described as obstructionism on the part of the city council.
"There's a history of us potentially trying to gum up the process as a City," West said. "It looks to me like we've been obstructionist along the way or subversive. So maybe that's why they didn't cut us into how they drew the map (for the intergovernmental agreement). I don't know. But we don't have jurisdiction on this issue."
Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Kevin O'Malley wrote in his testimony that "it is reasonable to assume" that the City had been talking about the issue for weeks or months and was unhappy that the chamber did not learn about it until days before the meeting. However, the Spokesman did not hear the City discuss the topic of the LUBA appeal prior to the council meeting, although the City mentioned the upcoming public hearing about the master plan that took place Sept. 24, briefly during the Sept. 5 council meeting.
"Your business community believes that before City Council takes any positions opposing the Aurora Airport — which is an important Wilsonville economic driver of jobs and prosperity — it must first provide a robust, transparent, inclusive public process," O'Malley's testimony reads.
City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said the City didn't hear about the public hearing until they were informed by the Friends of French Prairie recently and didn't hear about the LUBA appeal until after it was filed Sept. 10.
West initially said the City was being hasty in its decision to provide testimony and submit the motion to intervene and have "danced around" the issue for a longtime. However, in a text message he sent the Spokesman after the meeting he wrote: "I want to be clear, it is the 9th hour of the ODA approval process and the land use process. My point was not that we are just now engaging on airport issues."
Lehan and Knapp noted that the City's position has been consistent over many years.
"We have not danced around this. We have been 100% consistent that we want to be included in the process and we want to follow the land use laws," Lehan said. "We just found (out) about this through the grapevine. How could we have acted any faster?"
"Unfortunately when a motion is filed with LUBA you have a short period of time to determine if you want to intervene," City Attorney Barbara Jacobson said.
Before the council's decision, seven members of the public testified to posit their opinions on the Aurora Airport Master Plan and whether the City should be involved in the litigation.
Ted Millar and Bruce Bennett, who own businesses at the airport, showed support of the airport and the master planning process.
Bennett, whose testimony was read by Tony Helbling, said the LUBA appeal was "frivolous and designed to harass"
"When the master plan was approved, a lot of those objectors didn't like the outcome so they say it wasn't a transparent process. I can assure you all the meeting I attended for 3-4 years, it was very open," Millar said.
Bennett said the airport brings in over 2,600 jobs, has a $72 million payroll and an indirect payroll of over $52 million.
"All of these are jeopardized if the airport isn't able to realize key necessary infrastructure (the runway extension) essential to the aircraft that currently use the airport," he wrote.
On the other hand, Charbonneau residents Eric Hoem, Bill Wallace and Wayne Richards, like Williams, posited that the master planning process did not comply with state land use laws. Williams also provided testimony that evening.
"To me this is not about liking or not liking airports. It's not about supporting or not supporting expansion. To me the concern is about the integrity of Oregon's land use planning process," Hoem said.
Many Charbonneau residents are opposed to the runway extension because they are concerned more flights would lead to exacerbating noise problems, which many say are already a nuisance to the neighborhood.
Also, City of Aurora Planning Commissioner Joseph Schaefer said Aurora recently opposed the master plan as drafted and would like to see the airport annexed into Aurora before improvements are made and that the City will provide public testimony in the matter, though they hadn't decided if they will participate in the LUBA appeal.
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