On Wednesday, August 11, in the second Special Session of 2020, the Legislature faced with a $1.2 Billion deficit due to lost revenue from the COVID-19 economic downturn cut the budgets of many important State government programs.. As reported in The Oregonian, most of that funding was originally designated for social services and PERS deficit reduction.

What was not questioned and passed with no public input (or debate) in the Capital Construction Budget bill was funding for the Run Up Area and Taxiway Improvement construction at Aurora State Airport!

  • Run Up Area capital construction budget = $205,000
  • Taxiway Improvement construction budget = $113,000
  • TOTAL = $318,000 for Aurora Airport construction

But Wait, There’s More! In order to proceed with the Run Up Area and Taxiway construction, Dept. of Aviation needs to receive approval from the FAA for their Environmental Assessment workup. August 5 was the close day for public comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment submitted by ODA and their consultant (Century West) to the FAA.

Among those commenting on the Draft EA were: City of Wilsonville, City of Aurora, Friends of French Prairie and Charbonneau Civic Affairs.

Here’s a short list of the deficiencies pointed out and objections made to the FAA:

  • In multiple places within the Draft EA, the 2012 Aurora Airport Master Plan is referenced, but not once did ODA disclose that appeals have been filed against that master plan at Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) and in circuit court. In other words, “litigation is pending” and it was not disclosed to the FAA.
  • The Draft EA contends that a noise study was not required because total operations do not exceed 90,000 per year, yet elsewhere in the report they estimate 94,935 total annual operations.
  • In the area of infrastructure, while the Draft EA does appear to address storm water management deficiencies, it makes no mention of the lack of a viable sewer system for the airport.
  • In spite of the acknowledgment that Run Up area expansion and improvement of the taxiways is needed to accommodate future growth of the airport, the Draft EA argues that air emissions will not increase above minimal thresholds and will not “significantly impact or alter air quality.”

As a reminder, in January of 2019, Oregon Solutions released an Assessment Report on the Aurora State Airport—commissioned by the Legislature when ODA was seeking approval to apply for $37 million to expand the airport—and their findings included:

  • A master plan process characterized by “broken public process” compounded by “lack of clarity . . . about the purpose of an airport master plan”
  • “Significant questions have been raised about the Department [of Aviation] capacity and capability to carry out its mission . . .”
  • “The airport has a noise abatement procedure, but it is voluntary and frequently violated and the noise problems for Aurora, Charbonneau and Wilsonville promise to worsen not improve.”
  • “No assessment of air pollution impact due to expansion have been conducted.”

Yet here we are a year and a half later, and the very same concerns identified by Oregon Solutions have not been addressed, but are now present in the Draft Environmental Assessment to begin the airport expansion.

All this in addition to the driver of the current LUBA appeal, which was the assertion made by the Aviation Board at its October 31, 2019 hearing on the Aurora Airport that “if compatibility with a local comprehensive plan can be demonstrated, then Statewide Planning Goals do not apply,” and that a decision to expand the Aurora Airport was essentially not a land use decision.

How is it that in the face of major State budget problems we can cut programs, but fund capital construction that benefits less than 2% of the population? Why is the Governor’s Office turning a blind eye, and the Legislature continuing to fund this problem-filled expansion project?