The Oregon Dept. of Aviation, under the oversight of the Oregon Board of Aviation, have been overseeing an update to the Master Plan for the Aurora State Airport. This multi-year process is separate from the Federal Aviation Administration decision to place an air traffic control tower at the Aurora Airport for safety reasons. The process has been fraught with politics and special interest pressures, and significant changes of direction as can be seen in the Plan Chronology and in the Master Plan Process Summary prepared by Tony Holt (Civic Affairs at Charbonneau).

Aurora Airport Master Plan Chronology – November 2009 to present

Date Status Item
Date Status Item
Nov. 3, 2009 Oregon Department of Aviation (ODA) initiates Master Plan update for Aurora Airport with selection of WH Pacific as consultant. Public Kick-Off Meeting defines Master Plan outcome to include: Chapter 1 – Introduction Chapter 2 – Airport inventory Chapter 3 – Aeronautical Activity Forecast Chapter 4 – Facilities Requirements Chapter 5 – Airport Alternatives Chapter 6 – Airport Layout Plan Chapter 7 – Capital Improvement Plan
December 2009 ODA appoints Public Advisory Committee (PAC) comprised of airport users, representative of local municipalities and concerned citizens
July 22, 2010 PAC Meeting #1
Sept. 14, 2010 Letter from Clackamas Co., City of Wilsonville, neighboring communities & Friends of Marion Co. to Chair, Aviation Board saying Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) marginalized; process being rushed; discussion time severely limited; no discussion of study goals or vision; activity forecast sent to FAA for approval prior to PAC review; no impact analyses of noise, pollution, traffic; requests meeting with Chair of Aviation Board, FAA, Director ODA and Consultant.
Sept. 30, 2010 PAC Meeting #2
Dec. 9, 2010 PAC Meeting #3
Feb. 17, 2011 PAC Meeting #4
March 31, 2011 Preferred Alternative presented to Oregon Aviation Board in Salem by Department of Aviation staff (Chris Cummings) and its Master Plan consultant (Rainse Anderson, WH Pacific). Master Plan recommendations include: change of ARC status from B-II to C-II, no expansion of physical size of airport, and no lengthening of runway. “ODA has decided that any extension would prove infeasible at this time…An extension to the south might have a negative impact on farmland—a potentially environmentally infeasible situation.”
April 2011 Aviation Board directs ODA staff to change Preferred Alternative from “no extension” to “an extension is necessary.”
April 28, 2011 “New” Preferred Alternative with two scenarios to lengthen the runway via displaced threshold: one of 600 feet to north, the other 800 feet to south) are presented to Oregon Aviation Board. ODA staff is instructed to present the Preferred Alternative to the PAC
June 7, 2011 ODA receives letter from FAA Seattle Regional Office that is will not support nor fund displaced threshold approaches to runway lengthening being considered and will only support a 1,000 foot runway extension
June 7, 2011 Preferred Alternative with two lengthening scenarios (displaced threshold and 1,000 foot to south) is presented to PAC at public meeting.
June 24, 2011 Aviation board votes unanimously in support of an 800 foot displaced threshold runway “extension” to the north.
Feb. 22, 2012 Letter from Oregon Dept. of Aviation to ADA District Office acknowledges the FAA rejection of both displaced threshold approached to runway lengthening, and confirms that the Oregon Aviation Board had unanimously voted in favor of a 1,000 foot runway lengthening to the south which “would require the relocation of Keil Road…and purchase or obtain an easement for land to protect the off-airport Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) to the south.”
May 22, 2012 Letter from Charbonneau Country Club to FAA reviews many concerns about the Master Plan process including the fact the minutes of the Oregon State Aviation Board meeting on March 31, 2011 omit any reference to the actual Dept. of Aviation presentation to the Board at the meeting stating that the Preferred Alternative was ‘No Extension’. This is confirmed by The Oregonian report of April 8, 2011 which states in part “The Aurora State Airport runway will remain 5,000 feet long for two more decades under a detailed proposal released today—” And similar coverage in the Woodburn Independent on April 6, 2011.
July 20, 2012 Response letter from FAA District Office to Charbonneau Country Club confirms that runway extension has to be justified based on FAA criterion, and that the Sponsor (Oregon Dept. of Aviation) has chosen to pursue the 1,000 foot runway extension to the south.
Oct. 17-18, 2012 Airport Layout Plan signed by FAA and ODA after over a year of bickering and negotiating about tower siting, length of runway extension and location of runway extension.
Nov. 18, 2011 ODA receives letter from FAA confirming support for 1,000 foot extension to the south and disapproving 800 foot displaced threshold to the north.
UNKNOWN Revised Chapter 5 of the Aurora Airport Master Plan is published that includes a NEW Supplemental Data section detailing the 1,000 foot runway extension to the south. No public notice given, the Master Plan PCA is not informed.
UNKNOWN The ODA web page for the Aurora Airport Master Plan is updated with the revised Chapter 5 including Supplemental Data (but includes no date of page revision)
Feb. 16, 2014 Public Hearing: Sens. Betsy Johnson and Fred Girod cosponsor SB 534 (so-called “Pottys for Pilots” bill) allowing cities to provide urban services (water & sewer) to airports without annexation – directly circumventing existing land use laws.
Jan. 8, 2015 Following frequent requests regarding release of the “final version” of the Aurora Airport Master Plan, Jeff Caines, Aviation Planner at Dept. of Aviation, confirms to FOFP that ODA has discovered that they do not have the required State Agency Coordinating (SAC) agreements or the corresponding Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs) in place to approve the Master Plan in compliance with State land use laws. He states that once complete “the agency will be able to address the formal adoption of airport Master Plans.”
July 27, 2015 SB 534 becomes law, allowing provision of some urban services to airports without annexation.
March 7, 2017 Aviation Board hears and approves proposed ODA State Agency Coordinating agreement and Administrative Rules.
Nov. 9, 2017 Rep. Rick Lewis meets with local constituents in French Prairie and received resounding opposition to Aurora Airport expansion. The next day he communicates that he is sponsoring a bill (HB 4092) to expand the airport by circumventing State and County land use laws by making Aurora Airport expansion onto EFU land an approved outright use.
Feb. 9 2018 House Transportation Committee holds a hearing on HB 4092 with significant opposition testimony that the bill would violate Goal 1 and circumvent the state land use laws. Rep. Lewis subsequently submits an amendment supporting the bill on the premise of emergency preparedness, but failed to coordinate with Dept. of Geology & Minerals who’s own earthquake maps show the southern half of the runway subject to liquefaction.
Feb. 9, 2017 Rep. Lewis’ HB 4092 sent to Rules Committee and is tabled for the remainder of the Legislative session following an animated Transportation Committee hearing with significant opposition.
July 27, 2018 Brian DeForest, Interim Director of ODA, sends letter to Senate President Peter Courtney and Speaker Tina Kotek informing them that ODA has submitted a Letter of Intent to apply for $37.7 Million in FAA funds to expand the Aurora Airport, and will shortly be submitting the full application, and will then be coming to the Legislature in September, 2018 to receive Retroactive Permission to do so.
Sept. 23, 2018 Emergency Board Sub-Committee on Government hearing on ODA seeking retroactive permission to apply to FAA for $37 million in funding to expand Aurora Airport. Moved to Emergency Board on Sept. 24 with recommendation to pass.
Sept. 24, 2018 Emergency Board agenda item re: ODA request for retroactive permission to apply for $37 million in FAA funding for Aurora Airport. Per Sen. Betsy Johnson motion, item is tabled and Oregon Solutions retained to conduct intervention and mediation between opposing parties.
Oct. to Dec. 2018 Oregon Solutions conducts “assessment of Aurora Airport situation, including interviews with parties on both sides.
Nov. 29, 2018 City of Wilsonville holds the first and only public hearing on the question of expanding the Aurora Airport to be held since the end of the master plan process in 2012. Over 200 people attend, and significant new opposition testimony is given, especially regarding: 1) probably Goal 1 violations that could result in legal action, and 2) likelihood that the 2012 Aurora Airport Master Plan is not a “legally adopted” plan.
Dec. 12, 2018 Oregon Solutions delivers final “Assessment Report” on Aurora Airport to Legislative leadership. The “Findings” section includes 13 major problem areas including: escalation of costs, safety, motor vehicle traffic, land use, public process, interagency coordination and Dept. of Aviation capability and capacity.
Dec. 13, 2018 Emergency Board Sub-committee on Government hearing on ODA request for retroactive permission to apply for $37 million in FAA funds to expand the Aurora Airport. No testimony is requested of Karmen Fore, Director of Oregon Solutions (though present at hearing). Rather testimony requested from Martha Meeker, Chair of State Aviation Board, who restates the request and fails to explain how a $7 million estimate in the 2012 Master Plan had grown to a $37 million request. No discussion of the Oregon Solutions report or any of its findings re: Aurora Airport. Request forward to Emergency Board with recommendation to pass.
Dec. 14, 2018 Emergency Board considers agenda item to grant retroactive permission to ODA for application to FAA for $37 million in funding. Motion passes unanimously with no discussion.
April 24, 2019 Betty Stansbury, new Director of Oregon Dept. of Aviation acknowledges in a letter to Friends of French Prairie the following:

  • The so-called Aurora Airport Master Plan was never “approved” by the Dept. of Aviation
  • The so-called Aurora Airport Master Plan was never “legally adopted” by the State Aviation Board

Though not complied with, Dept. of Aviation was subject to Dept. of Transportation State Agency Coordinating Agreement rules during the 2010 master plan process, which required the inclusion of all effected jurisdictions (such as City of Wilsonville and Clackamas County).

June 14, 2019 City of Wilsonville sends letter to Dept. of Aviation stating, that the “City of Wilsonville has had serious concerns about the lack of a meaningful public process in past Aurora State Airport Master Planning processes… Under both the previously binding ODOT State Agency Coordination Program and the more recently adopted program, Wilsonville is both an impacted and interested party with respect to future Aurora State Airport Master Planning and the potential expansion of a runway… Substantial changes have been made to the draft Aurora State Airport Master Plan since the public process closed in 2012. For whatever reason, however, Wilsonville and Clackamas County were effectively excluded from that process in the past… [W]hen the Master Plan process is reopened we are confident that…the ODA will seek participation and input from Wilsonville and Clackamas County.”
July 18, 2019 Posted agenda for August 1, 2019, Aviation Board meeting, Lebanon State Airport master plan approval agenda item, includes a new (undated) flowchart titled “State Agency Coordination Program: Adoption of Final Master Plans, Oregon Department of Aviation.” The 2010-2012 Aurora Airport Master Plan process demonstrates significant divergences from this defined process to comply with state rules on inter-agency coordination.
Aug. 19, 2019 Oregon Dept. of Aviation announced they are holding a meeting on Sept. 24 in Salem, from 3:00 to 5:00 PM to gather “information on the compatibility of the Master Plan with applicable land use plans and statewide planning goals.” Written testimony will be accepted, but verbal testimony is limited to two minutes. ODA will then “present findings of compatibility” to the Aviation Board at its October 31 meeting in Sunriver.
Aug. 21, 2019 Betty Stansbury, Director of the Dept of Aviation sent a letter to FOFP’s land use attorney in which she “clarified and corrected” all her previous statements about the Aurora Airport Master Plan, now claiming that it had, in fact, been approved and adopted by the Aviation Board in 2012.
Sept. 10, 2019 Based on the legal opinion that the recant letter sent by Director Betty Stansbury on August 21, 2019 constituted the “land use decision” on the 2012 Aurora Airport Master Plan, FOFP has filed a LUBA appeal. The letter ostensibly sought to clarify and correct Director Stansbury’s previous statements about the status of the 2012 Aurora Airport Master Plan by denying them and claiming the Master Plan had been adopted.
Sept. 15, 2019 Using recently available ACTUAL objective data from the FAA Air Traffic Activity Data System (ATADS) FOFP is now able to compare projected growth in Total Operations and Based Aircraft found in the 2012 Aurora Airport Master Plan with what has actually occurred. These forecasts, along with Constrained Operations data, constitute the justification for lengthening the runway and expanding the airport at Aurora, and can now be seen as not just willful misrepresentations but falling as much as 40% short of forecast.

Aurora Airport Master Plan Summary

The Aurora Airport Master Plan current revision has been a flawed process from the beginning, largely due to the fact that there is no independent party involved having decision making powers. All the decision makers, ODA, the Aviation Board and the FAA, have a vested aviation interest and some of the members of those groups even have an aviation business interest. In addition, there has been a complete lack of reliable documentation. There are no records of take-offs and landings at the Airport, and so any forecast of activity is suspect. There is no proper documentation of the claims by 11 operators at Aurora (out of about 350 based aircraft) that they have ‘constrained operations’ and need a longer runway. There is no documentation of ODA’s conversations with the FAA whereby the FAA appears to overrule ODA’s latest development proposals.

Then there is the actual sequence of events—the ever changing face of ODA’s development ‘Preferred Alternative” (PA). After much discussion among the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) with no clear conclusion as to whether or not there should be a runway expansion, ODA decided their Preferred Alternative would be a strengthening of the runway but no extension. They said “ODA has decided that any extension would prove infeasible at this time.” That seemed a reasonable compromise, given the differing views of the Policy Advisory Committee. But that did not satisfy the Airport developers and a few Airport businesses. They lobbied ODA and the Aviation Board hard. So ODA cherry-picked its comment responses and said that (within an arbitrary time period) there was a majority in favor of runway extension. They ignored all the petitions and testimony opposing an extension that had gone before. Suddenly runway expansion was no longer ‘infeasible’. Two hybrid extension cases were produced which would lengthen the runway for take-offs but not for landings. At this point the FAA got in the act. Or were they in all along? They said they would not fund any hybrid expansion as proposed. So, out of the blue came the latest ODA PA, a 1000 foot expansion to the south which extends the airport outside the current boundary onto prime farmland and closes a road which is considered key access for the Aurora Fire District and local farmers. ODA itself said earlier “Keil Road provides necessary access for farm equipment/machinery and emergency responders—” Where did the 1000 feet come from? Why not 600 feet or 400 feet? The saga of the process, with no checks and balances, continues.

The Master Planning process is supposed to be a collaborative one between airport users, neighboring communities and local government representatives. This one has become a one sided effort to grow the Aurora Airport with disregard by the Aviation Board and ODA for local input. That was followed by the FAA rejecting ODA’s first three recommendations. Where will it all end and who will be the independent arbiter of this process which is spending, and will in the future spend, lots of scarce taxpayer money to benefit a very few?

Tony Holt
Charbonneau Country Club Civic Affairs

Friends of French Prairie position on the Master Planning process.

Friends of French Prairie is on record as opposing lengthening of the runway and does not believe the data supports the need. We are strongly opposed to any expansion of the airport boundary that would close Kiel Road and take EFU farmland. We find it perplexing after a month’s long process on the part of ODA, WH Pacific and the PAC, that prompting from the Oregon Aviation Board and the FAA have seemingly caused a reversal of the position stated in the Preferred Alternative of March 24, including the statement: “ODA has decided that any extension would prove infeasible at this time….An extension to the south might have a negative impact on farmland—a potentially environmentally infeasible situation.”

The City of Salem has decided to extend the runway at the airport at the State capital. Why should the public, through FAA Federal money and State OTIA III state money pay for TWO airport runway expansions for competing airports which are only 26.3 miles from each other?

Aurora is 26.3 miles from Salem and 22.8 miles from downtown Portland, much farther than PDX. Salem can serve the needs of the South Metro/North Willamette Valley with only slightly longer driving distances on fully developed roads than Aurora, who’s local roads are rural and inadequate for increased airport traffic.

Given the choice, Salem should get the go ahead and Aurora should remain as it is today, because:

  • Salem has a tower and urban services – Aurora would need to build a tower and has NO urban services, is on limited well water and septic tanks.
  • Salem has municipal governance, Aurora is on EFU land, outside city limits, urban growth boundaries and has no immediate plans to become urbanized
  • Salem has commercial air service, Aurora has none;
  • Salem serves the Air National Guard and the State Capitol; Aurora serves flight schools and private pilots, it’s major economic focus is helicopters, which do not need new expensive runway expansions to provide jobs.
  • Salem’s runway, after extension would be shorter than Aurora’s – Why do we need to expand a constrained airport, when a non-constrained airport exists?
  • The Aurora expansion is supported by false airport use numbers, with little real demand other than the desire of airport users to fly bigger jets and developers to do real estate deals, Salem has real need, real economic growth potential and serves hundreds of acres of nearby zoned and served industrial land.

After a year and a half long process where are we? The Aviation Board has voted in support of a displaced threshold runway “extension” knowing full well that the FAA is almost certainly not going to approve and provide funds for it. This would enable the Aviation Board to accept the FAA’s position of a 1,000 foot runway extension and be able to say: “we tried for less, but the FAA forced us to make a longer conventional extension.” The problem is that position doesn’t pass the smell test.

Of note, on March 10, 2011, when the Preferred Alternative was presented to the Aviation Board and proposed no runway extension, that recommendation was ostensibly based on a set of data (surveys, constrained operations numbers, etc.). That recommendation did not satisfy the Aviation Board nor airport users, and ODA and their consultant was directed to look at additional runway extension options. On what data is the 800 foot runway extension based? None! It is purely a function of the desire of airport users and the Aviation Board to enlarge the Aurora Airport and extend the runway, and now they have their straw man in the form of the FAA. This is an outrageous assault on local decision making and an terrible use of tax payer dollars!

Where are we now, early 2013?

The very public process by which the update to the Aurora Airport Master Plan ran for a year and a half, and engaged a great deal of public involvement—both pro and against expansion.  The result was delivery by ODA and their consultant, WH Pacific, a Preferred Alternative that recommended to runway extension and no expansion of the airport.  That wasn’t good enough for the Oregon Aviation Board who summarily instructed ODA to go find a way to extend the runway.  ODA did another survey of aviation users and excluded all other public comment, resulting in a new set of data that strongly supported runway extension. This lead to two new extension scenarios, and the Aviation Board then unanimously approved the one for an 800 foot extension to the north—knowing full well that the FAA was already on record opposing such an extension.  That was the end of the public process—though its worthy of note that Aviation Board meetings aren’t really part of the public process: they are not publicly noticed and there is no space on the agenda for public comment.

On October 12, 2012 FAA and ODA signed the Airport Layout Plan, finalizing the central element of the Master Plan. The sixteen months between the last vestige of public activity at the Aviation Board meeting and the agreement between ODA and FAA on the Airport Layout plan were completely shielded from public involvement.  And the result is a “delivered plan” that is about as far apart from the original “Preferred Alternative” as could be possible.

  • Instead of no runway extension we now have a 1,000 foot extension
  • Instead of no airport expansion we now have the proposal to acquire 55 acres of EFU land south of the airport to expand the runway protection zone
  • Instead of concern about a negative impact on farmland, all the farmland south of the airport id a direct fly over zone
  • Instead of no impact on Kiel Road, Kiel Road will be abandoned on its west end where it joins Hwy. 551 and rerouted to Ehlen road, dividing the remaining farmland south of the airport in half and marginalizing it.

FOFP said almost two years ago that what was going on at Aviation Board meetings was an outrageous assault on local decision making and use of tax dollars. What has ensued since is an egregious overturn of public process, where all public input ended up ignored and used as nothing more than window dressing so State and Federal aviation agencies could get what they wanted all along. And who benefits? A very small percentage, the less than 1% in the aviation sector, who now get to have their infrastructure paid for by regular tax payers.