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Director Betty Stansbury says department could proceed with runway extension; however, the FAA says further planning is needed for the project.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The City of Wilsonville has long contested plans for expansion at the Aurora Airport.

Oregon Department of Aviation (ODA) Director Betty Stansbury said a long-disputed project to extend an Aurora Airport runway could proceed before an update of the Aurora Airport Master Plan. However, the ODA will need to conduct further planning before the Federal Aviation Administration would provide grant funding for the project.

The Wilsonville government has disputed the legitimacy of the 2012 master plan update, as well as the runway extension project, since the plan was said to have passed in 2011 (the city contends it was never formally adopted by the Oregon Aviation Board), and the city has long advocated for a new process to begin.

Most recently, the Wilsonville City Council approved an appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals of a recent Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) decision that dismissed its case, which centered on the validity of the 2012 plan, on jurisdictional grounds.

The recent ODA notice, originally drafted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), says that a project to add a run-up area at the airport can't be completed until further planning is done, and that the FAA and ODA are working on the scope of a master plan update that would include the run-up area and a 1,000-foot runway extension, which the ODA and airport proponents have said would improve safety for pilots.

"If these projects are considered justified and foreseeable, they would be subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act," the notice reads.

FAA Regional Public Affairs Office Allen Kenitzer said via email that the next master plan update is anticipated to begin in 2021 and that the ODA would be eligible to receive grant funding to conduct the process.

The FAA, though, has recommended — not required — that the ODA update its master plan. And Stansbury said it would be up to her department as well as the Oregon Aviation Board to decide when that process will take place.

"Master plans are updated roughly every 10 years. Some may wait 15 to 20 years. It's up to that airport owner how often they want to do a master plan update," she said.

The Wilsonville government has contended that the runway extension project, which some fear would lead to encroachment on rural land and larger and noisier jets flying into the airport, was illegally added to the 2012 plan, but Stansbury said the project could go forward before the update because the existing plan is valid.

"The LUBA decision affirmed what we believed (which) is that the department and (Oregon Aviation) board complied with state law," she said.

Wilsonville City Attorney Barbara Jacobson said that based on conversations with an FAA attorney and her interpretation of a recent notice published by the ODA and drafted by the FAA, it's clear the FAA wants the master plan update to come before the runway extension. She rhetorically asked why the FAA would require further planning for a small run-up area project (in the notice) and then approve construction for a much larger runway extension project.

Jacobson also noted that Stansbury once said the 2012 master plan had not been formally adopted before reversing her stance.

Kenitzer simply wrote that "further planning is necessary for a runway extension project at the Aurora State Airport to be demonstrated as eligible and justified."

Regardless, grant funding is likely vital to the project's chance of completion. Stansbury said the ODA relies mostly on FAA grant funding for such projects and that an environmental assessment would need to be completed before land acquisition and construction could take place. The ODA previously applied for a $37 million grant from the FAA to complete the extension, but that application was unsuccessful.

"We would have to seek federal funding. We are a state agency that doesn't receive state funding. We exist off [the] aviation fuel tax and a little bit of money from leases at airports. Aviation fuel tax has declined significantly over the last nine months," Stansbury said.

Kenitzer wrote that master plan age is a relevant part of determining which projects receive funding.

"Regardless of the age of the master plan, all projects need to be justified and eligible to receive FAA funding. Typically, the master plan identifies projects in a short, medium and long-term development plan and projects that are contained in the short term (one to five years after the master plan) have a higher degree of confidence to be justified and eligible to receive funding, but this is not always the case," he wrote.

Stansbury also said the Court of Appeals ruling could inform the upcoming master planning process, including when it would take place.

"There's always room for improvement, and we will consider the findings in the LUBA case and Court of Appeals to see if we can improve the process this time around," she said.

Whenever the master plan update occurs, Stansbury said it will include a reevaluation of the need for the runway extension.

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