Another Legislative session is upon us, so there has to be a new effort to change land use laws in Salem for the benefit of developers at the Aurora Airport, right? Sure enough there is! This time, though, instead of enlisting the old diehards Senator Fred Girod, the developers have enlisted freshman Representative Rick Lewis of Silverton (who was appointed to replace Vic Gilliam).
Situation Analysis: even after attending a Constituents Meeting at the Butteville Store to meet and learn his constituent concerns, where he received unanimous concern about the Aurora Airport and opposition to Airport expansion, Rep. Lewis (the next day!) made public his decision to introduce a bill in the upcoming Legislative Session (one of his two) to enable expansion of the Aurora Airport. He is strongly in league with Sens. Betsy Johnson and Fred Girod, the Legislators responsible for the so-called “pottys for pilots” bill in the last Legislative session that exempted Aurora and Madras State Airports from annexation in order to expand urban services of water and sewer.
What’s in the Bill? This bill proposes changing Oregon Land Use Law to make runway expansions at State Airports at which 300 or more planes are based to be an outright allowable use on Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) lands. In other words, the proponents would not have to go through the required process of obtaining a Goal 14 exception. That makes it very similar to the bill from the last legislative session (see below) which changed State land use laws to allow cities to provide sewer and water services to two airports (Aurora and Madras) without annexation. Only one State airport qualifies under Rep. Lewis’ proposed bill: the Aurora State Airport. Of the 432 aircraft based at Aurora only 21 jets would benefit from a longer runway. Most of Aurora fleet of 312 Single Engine, 59 Multi-engine, 35 Helicopter, 1 glider and 4 unknown aircraft do not require and would not benefit from this runway extension.
What’s driving this bill? Ted Millar, owner of Southend Corporate Jet Park along with other aviation interests and Kevin O’Malley from the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce have organized the Aurora Airport Economic Development Council have assembled a professional lobbying team including J.L. Wilson, a professional lobbyist and Wendy Kellington, a major land use attorney. They are actively out to “sell” the benefits of the bill. The public can be assured that incurring the costs of professional lobbyists and attorneys would only happen if the financial return to the investors is significant. This is the next example in a series of Federal and State tax dollars being spent to benefit a very few (the 21 jet owners) and the business owners at Aurora Airport who sell jet fuel and build/lease hangars.
Who supports this Bill? Aurora Airport Economic Development District, along with Senators Fred Girod and Betsy Johnson support the bill. The City of Aurora’s position is not clear at this time but Mayor Graupp voiced support at a meeting of local government officials mid-November. The Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce will certainly support the bill, as they have been a 100% airport development booster for some years now.
What’s the pitch? Wendy Kellington’s first public pitch of the bill was at a meeting of local government officials in November, where she positioned it as a win/win in as much as she said that the current runway length is inadequate and unsafe which is totally false—if it were unsafe the FAA would have shut the Airport down. 2) She said the runway is too short for modern day aircraft which is also totally false—lots of jets take off and land every day. 3) she went on to assert that all that is sought is a modest lengthening of the taxiway to accompany runway lengthening—yet the area ‘required’ is not specified in the bill. 4) the bill proposes allowing the taxiway extension/ expansion outright onto EFU land rather than requiring the legal effort to obtain a Goal 14 exemption. Getting an end run on a Goal 14 exemption means no public process, and likely no environmental impact process, and a precedent to just take EFU land when they next want to expand the Aurora Airport.
What’s the problem? As described so far there are no sidebars to restrict this as a onetime event specific to the described slice of land to lengthen the taxiway…so it could be used later for other expansion purposes. Further if what is in view is such a modest and benign expansion why would a State-wide precedent be set for this one airport to bypass and end run State land use law?
Related problems are those that were brought up and minimized during the recent Master Planning process: inadequate road, sewer and waste water infrastructure. Inadequate road infrastructure includes: I-5 and Boone Bridge, Arndt Road, Airport Road, Ehlen Road and the Aurora/Donald I-5 interchange. Additionally, the fact that the most impacted municipalities (Clackamas County and City of Wilsonville) were purposefully excluded from the process by virtue of an Impact Map that was part of the Inter-Governmental Agreement between Oregon Dept. of Aviation and Marion County to secure funding for air traffic control tower construction.
Besides the immediate problem of a State-wide super-siting precedent in this bill, it expands the footprint of the airport onto EFU land. This sets in motion lengthening the runway, and the high probability that all the EFU ag land south of the Aurora Airport to Ehlen Road, and from Hwy. 551 to the Aurora City boundary will come under significant aviation-related development pressure. Virtually all future “economic development” that would occur at the Aurora Airport in the form of “new jobs” would require the re-zoning of all the ag land south of the airport into commercial and/or light industrial to locate new aviation related businesses.