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Improvement association lawyer asks board to move forward with disputed runway extension project rather than update plan

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Oregon Aviation Board is accepting grant funding for a new Aurora Airport master plan update.

The Oregon Aviation Board accepted 100% funding from the Federal Aviation Administration to complete an Aurora Airport master plan update during a meeting Thursday, June 3.

However, the board agreed to wait to hire a contractor for the update until the Oregon Court of Appeals makes a decision this month on whether to uphold a Land Use Board of Appeals ruling that dismissed complaints from the city of Wilsonville and other entities about the most recent airport master plan update in 2012.

Along with the unanimous vote to accept the funding, the meeting included a plea from attorney Wendie Kellington with the Aurora Airport Improvement Association, which represents businesses and pilots at the airport, asking the board to greenlight a 1,000-foot runway extension — the main source of controversy for the past decade — without completing the master plan update. The Wilsonville government has vigorously opposed the runway extension project as well as the process that led to its addition to the 2012 plan.

She relayed a message from an airport pilot saying the extension is crucial for ensuring safe flights there. She indicated the state hasn't reciprocated the considerable investments the private sector has put into the airport.

"Isn't it worth a discussion that this runaway extension doesn't need yet another alternatives analysis and really what we need to do is move forward?" she said.

OAB Chair Martha Meeker said she understood Kellington's concern about safety, but that the department and board had no choice: They must complete the master plan update to receive FAA grant funding for airport projects.

"The bottom line is the ODA can't pay for the extension unless we have FAA money. End of story," she said.

Kellington also suggested that the master plan update likely will lead to another legal challenge from groups that oppose the extension, such as the cities of Wilsonville and Aurora and Friends of French Prairie.

Meeker and ODA Director Betty Stansbury noted that the majority of master plan updates are not legally challenged while Meeker indicated that a letter Stansbury sent early in her tenure stating that the 2012 master plan update had not been finalized (she later reversed her stance) precipitated the current litigation.

"Litigation is the exception rather than the norm," Stansbury said. "We will do everything we can to do it right and limit the potential for litigation."

Stansbury also said during the meeting that she doesn't expect the Oregon Supreme Court to take up the current airport litigation if the OCOA decision is appealed.

While the runway extension project likely will be delayed at least until after the master plan update and a subsequent environmental assessment is finalized, Stansbury expressed motivation to move quickly on a tree removal project, which Kellington said pilots also desire to improve safety.

"Those trees shouldn't be there. I will personally direct efforts to get them down as quickly as we can," she said.

The city of Wilsonville will have a seat on an advisory committee for the plan update that will have 22 other members. The department hopes to complete the update by the end of 2022.

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