It was clear from the intent of Rep. Rick Lewis’ bill in the last Legislative session that the special interest developers and the Oregon Dept. of Aviation had something larger in mind than just the 1,000 foot runway extension found in the last Master Plan. The Master Plan that was rigged by the Aviation Board to remove the recommendation of “No Build” but rather to extend by 1,000 feet! The expansion goal was evident in the intent to acquire more property than the master plan contemplated south of the airport to extend the runway protection zone and install navigation equipment.

Now we know what is being planned because of details that have emerged from ODA about their application for FAA funds to expand the airport. They’re going after $37.7 MILLION dollars, of which over $4M is for property acquisition! That’s a lot of land south of the airport. Clearly the goal is to make Aurora into the State’s largest corporate jet airport.

At the beginning of August, ODA notified Legislative leadership that they had submitted a Letter of Intent to apply for FAA funds and would be submitting the full application in mid-September, and would be appearing before the Emergency Board on Sept. 26 to seek RETROACTIVE permission to do so. Enough vocal concern was raised that in advance of the Emergency Board hearing, testimony for and against was taken at the General Government Sub-committee on Sept. 24, and they the Emergency Board heard the matter. The testimony was strong, for and against and mirrored all the testimony given about the Lewis bill before the Transportation Committee early in the year.

The result? Sen. Betsy Johnson suggested that given the level of opposition and the argument by Clackamas County and City of Wilsonville that they had effectively been excluded from the process, that the request be tabled and that Oregon Solutions (a conflict resolution organization led by Karmen Fore) be engaged to mediate between the jurisdictions in advance of the next Emergency Board meeting in December.

What we have now come to find out, from the transcript of the July 19 Oregon Aviation Board meeting, is that Karmen Fore has been a vocal proponent of aviation expansion, glowingly put forward by Ted Millar (owner of Southend Airpark and developer at Aurora Airport) as the kind of advocate needed to expand aviation. Which begs the question: how objective would an Oregon Solutions intervention actually be? In the meantime, the FAA funding application has been submitted WITHOUT approval and is going through the assessment process at the FAA. This is not due or appropriate process, and that application must be withdrawn. Here is FOFP’s assessment of the situation.

Betsy Johnson and the Oregon Solutions Set Up

The week of September 24 was pretty normal for most Oregonians, but not for certain legislators. The Legislative Emergency Board and its General Government Subcommittee (which meet to make legislative funding decisions between actual Legislative sessions) held hearings, and among the agenda items was the Aurora Airport.

What was being requested of both bodies came from the Oregon Department of Aviation, and it was to receive retroactive permission to file an application with the Federal Aviation Administration for $37 Million in Airport Improvement Funds to lengthen the runway and expand the airport.

For those who have been following the Aurora Airport saga, yes—there are at least two eye-openers here. First, $37M is a dramatic increase over the amount estimated at the end of the 2013 Aurora Airport Master Plan where lengthening the runway was forecast to cost under $8M. Second, is the retroactive part: ODA notified legislative leaders that they had submitted a Letter of Intent to apply for these funds on July 29, and then submitted the application in early September, and now were asking for permission after the fact!

That may be normal operating procedure for typical year-to-year funding projects like highways or social services, but expansion of the Aurora Airport has become one of the most contentious issues at the Legislature in the past two years, and is characterized by a major problem: the two most impacted jurisdictions (Clackamas County and City of Wilsonville) were purposefully excluded from the planning process early on—that’s the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that would have involved them in land use, zoning, transportation and infrastructure decisions.

The principal maestro at the two hearings that week was Sen. Betsy Johnson. Yes, that one—the former manager of Aurora Airport, Senator from Scappoose who with her husband owns an aviation company at that airport, and has been actively promotion expansion at Aurora for years. The same Betsy Johnson that in 2007-2008 was caught out by the media in ethical problems for not disclosing the profit on the sale of 35 acres of land next to the Scappoose Airport, and for proposing legislation to create airport taxing district bills from which she and her husband would directly benefit. As Willamette Week reported in 2007, the other major benefactor of this law would be Ted Millar, owner of Southend Airpark and other property around the Aurora Airport.

The hearings over the ODA application were contentious, with Clackamas County and City of Wilsonville arguing against such funding until all the impacted parties were involved in the process and making the case for a complete and transparent process, while the proponents argues that acting now was critically important to create high-paying jobs. The solution to the impasse? Sen. Betsy Johnson puts forward the proposal that both sides engage in a mediation approach moderated by Oregon Solutions under the leadership of Karmen Fore, the former Sustainable Communities and Transportation Policy Advisor to the Governor—and now Director of Oregon Solutions.

The irony (or is duplicity) of this proposal, to which the majority of the Emergency Board agreed, only comes to light when you read what Ted Millar said about this before the Oregon Aviation Board in July:

The only thing I’m asking the Board, especially when you’re setting policy, is that, well, Karmen Fore, you know, the lady that was at the Governor’s Office before, said here at the Tillamook ORAVI [Oregon Aviation Industries] meeting last year that the Department of Aviation needs to be more aggressive in promoting, protecting, and improving airports, and they need to be much more aggressive in going after funding and doing the support necessary to place aviation at a higher level in the transportation system.

Which, of course, begs the question of how objective and unbiased any mediation led by Karmen Fore would be.

And that of course, gets us back to the original question of requesting retroactive permission to submit the funding application to the FAA. Since it was submitted without Legislative permission, and since the Aurora Airport expansion is such a contentious issue impacting multiple counties and cities, to say nothing of the negative impact on quality of life and land use and property values in and around Aurora, our position is simple: ODA should be instructed to withdrawn their FAA application until the problems with the IGA and the broken planning process at Aurora Airport are fixed.

Prepared by Friends of French Prairie