The Aurora Airport is already the busiest municipal airport in Oregon in terms of small plane take offs & landings, and has been the subject of numerous expansion and development proposals over the years. The most recent was Sen. Betsy Johnson’s attempt in the final days of the 2007 Oregon Legislative session to sponsor legislation that would have created a self-directed taxing district to enable “tax increment funding” of sewer and water development without the governance of a local government.
Many economic interests, outside our community seek unbridled commercial development with no meaningful input from the people who live here and deal with the consequences. Fortunately, media coverage of this self-serving legislation resulted in a public outcry which assured the measure’s death in committee at the Legislature. We are now seeing those interests back, motivated by the large profits of such a land speculation selling prime farmland for commercial and industrial development next to this ‘rural’ airport.
A New Expansion Threat
Apart from this application for a helicopter operation, for the airport to expand significantly, it needs an FAA-regulated control tower. Marion County has previously applied for full or partial financing for a new airport tower from state Connect Oregon II, Intermodal Transportation funds, generated by higher vehicle registration fees.
The presence of a control tower is part of the intention behind the Rural Airport Expansion bill, and would allow two significant things to happen at Aurora Airport besides the addition of a new helicopter facility:
- Relocation of many corporate jets from Hillsboro to Aurora to provide more convenient access for corporate owners.
- Significant airport-related developments, such as a rumored air freight hub located away from Portland International Airport.
Any of these developments would greatly increase local traffic on Hwy 551 (the Canby/Hubbard cutoff), I-5 access at Charbonneau and the Donald/Aurora exits, increase noise pollution for Charbonneau and Aurora, and stress the limited local infrastructure.
This has the potential to become the springboard for much bigger commercial developments, such as the Langdon Farms casino project or the conversion of Langdon Farms or other property adjoining the airport into light industrial developments. All of these will add pollution, traffic and will convert prime farmland to ugly industrial sprawl – not the vision the local community has for its future.
What’s Wrong With Development Here?
The big missing ingredient is municipal infrastructure. The Aurora Airport is located in Marion County and is not within the urban growth boundary (UGB) of any of the nearby cities or towns. That means it doesn’t have municipal access to development funds and, more importantly, has no municipal oversight. Being outside of an UGB means that development there would lack the local control, checks and balances built into Oregon’s land use laws – especially if it could achieve an independent taxing authority such as likely in any Rural Airport Expansion bill. that proposed by Sen. Betsy Johnson and her supporters in the aviation community.
The Aurora Airport is located on prime farm land in northeast French Prairie, is surrounded by agriculture, and sits squarely on EFU zoned land. It is also, along with Langdon Farms, part of the “doorway to the Willamette Valley” heading south from metro Portland. Development here has to be done carefully and with a long term view. Rampant and unchecked development would not only severely damage this local part of French Prairie, but could be the beginning of a development conduit down I-5 to Salem. Once farm land is gone, it never comes back.
A better alternative is to keep Airport activity inside Urban Growth Boundaries, as is the case with the Salem and Hillsboro airports. Airports and associated developments are urban uses and should be kept out of farm country. Keeping Aurora Airport small, uncontrolled airspace will help protect this area from land speculation and unwise industrialization – there are clearly other, better places for this kind of urbanization.
What’s Wrong With a Control Tower?
In principle, nothing! However, recent development options have been pushed by private interests who stand to benefit from the airport expansion, an in practice there are at least three things:
- First, what’s missing? The public! The local residents who will be most impacted have had almost no say, and the public has been kept out by special interests.
Those with vested long term interests, but who are being kept in the dark about the true intentions of the airport development are:
- Charbonneau residents in the flight path of the airport, within 10,000 feet of the center of the runway.
- Local residents who live within five miles of the airport and will have to suffer high volumes of traffic, including the communities of Wilsonville, Aurora, Donald, Canby, Hubbard and Woodburn. All citizens within five miles of the Aurora Airport should have an active say in the future of this facility.
- Local businesses and residents who frequently suffer increased traffic, noise and air pollution from the commercial aviation activity at this airport including helicopters and corporate jet traffic.
- The above impact map is based on an FAA standard of 14,000 feet around an airport, and shows the impact on the ground-but note, that the ring rises in the air as a cone representing airspace around the airport. That leads to the second point: it is entirely inappropriate for a development that is essentially a “municipal and public” asset like an airport to be developed without the impacted municipalities being involved and having a seat at the table. The absence of the public is a clear violation of Land Use Goal 1 – Public Involvement.
- Second, it is entirely inappropriate for a development that is essentially a “municipal and public” asset like an airport to be developed without the impacted municipalities being involved and having a seat at the table. The absence of the public is a clear violation of Land Use Goal 1 – Public Involvement.
- Third, the existing Aurora Airport master plan is ten years old and out of date, and the current expansion is going forward without a master plan. An airport expansion of this scope needs to have an updated master plan, be part of a larger French Prairie master plan that includes all effected municipalities, solicits public input, and gives emphasis to protecting the ‘agricultural foundation lands’ which are the best in the work, unique and threatened by development.
This kind of development should also fit into state-wide goals. For instance, as Salem Municipal Airport expands and adds commercial flights, shouldn’t significant airport expansion in north Willamette Valley occur there, in an urban and commercial setting, rather than in the middle of an agricultural area? Alternatives to Aurora Airport Expansion should be considered. Are there other airports already within Urban Growth Boundaries where this growth in aviation should be focused, where there are not the negative impacts on prime agricultural lands?
FOFP Position on the Aurora Airport Expansion
FOFP believes that while development at the Aurora Airport is likely, no development should occur without a new master plan that includes active participation of all effected communities, and also includes adequate public hearings. We have sent a letter to the Marion County Commissioners requesting that the tower funding request be withdrawn and a public hearing process begun.