In a joint letter with the Mayor of Aurora, Julie Fitzgerald asks the Legislative Committee to review the airport planning bill.
Wilsonville Mayor Julie Fitzgerald and Aurora Mayor Brian Asher sent a letter to the co-chairs of the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation begging them to book an appointment.
Mark Ottenad, Wilsonville City’s public affairs director, said hearings (which are a first step on the road to invoicing) only happen when someone asks about them, and that the letter may help move this bill from the public many other stands out was introduced. He also said a co-chair, Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, has expressed an interest in resolving the ongoing conflict over airport issues.
“Hopefully the leadership, the committee co-chairs, can say something like, ‘We have all these bills in front of us, here is one that two mayors wrote to us on behalf of their communities,'” he said.
Essentially, the bill would provide that a controversial project to expand an airport runway, as well as the expansion of other facilities, could not take place before the formation of an interstate agreement that includes Clackamas County and Wilsonville (which are excluded from the existing IGA). It would also require that a new master plan be adopted involving the local authorities and that, among other things, a plan for annexation to the city of Aurora be formulated. State representative Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville is its primary sponsor.
The mayor’s letter stated that the bill would prescribe processes, not results.
“The proposed legislation creates an open, transparent, public process to establish formal channels for intergovernmental communication and planning coordination between the State Aviation Authority and the local governments directly affected, which have been sorely lacking for the past 10 years,” it says.
Martha Meeker, chairman of the Oregon Aviation Board, said she doesn’t think Wilsonville should be part of an interstate agreement because it’s not in Marion County (the city of Wilsonville notes that Aurora and Wilsonville are the two cities in close proximity to) Airport) that the county should have the ultimate authority over airport planning and believed that previous master planning processes paving the way for future airport projects were being followed appropriately.
“At the moment, no one has shown us that the process is legally broken,” she said.
After years of harshness at the local and legislative levels, Wilsonville and other companies find themselves in litigation with the Oregon Department of Aviation and others over the validity of the latest master plan. The Land Use Board of Appeal dismissed the case, and Wilsonville and other companies appealed the decision to the Oregon Appeals Court, which has not yet made a decision. The City of Wilsonville has stated that the process that led to the master plan update, including extending the runway, was not conducted in accordance with state law.
Bruce Bennett, who owns Aurora Aviation and has been involved in the conflict for many years, said LUBA’s decision proves that the process so far has been “exemplary.”
“The only problem is Wilsonville and Aurora’s complaints about the process. The process was a textbook,” he said.
Ottenad said one goal of the bill is to help resolve the ongoing conflicts that have occurred over the past decade. Bennett said he likes the idea of working together but isn’t confident it will happen, adding that he doesn’t think the bill would bring a productive solution or compromise. He also said Wilsonville shouldn’t be included in the IGA, but there could be more and better communication between the city, airport interests, and the Oregon Department of Aviation.
A 2018 report by Oregon Solutions identified a lack of communication and a shared understanding of the facts as two issues plaguing airport discourse.
In addition to the lawsuits, the Wilsonville government is particularly concerned about a runway expansion project that could pave the way for more frequent flights and larger planes flying into the community. Annexation has been a top priority for the city of Aurora, while the city of Wilsonville’s interests are also not to overload local roads, protect farmland, and have concerns about noisy flights from the Charbonneau parish.
“We are alarmed by the agency’s efforts to expand the airport, which are promoting an increasingly urbanized level of activity in unregistered counties with high-quality arable land (exclusive agricultural use) without making meaningful public contributions and without supporting public infrastructure – all in contradiction to one another on the Oregon Goals for Citizen Participation and Land Use Planning, “the letter reads.
For his part, Bennett said proponents of the airport want the opposite – to be surrounded by farmland rather than urban development. He also said that the airport, which was built in 1943, has adequate infrastructure to continue operating without annexation to Aurora. He added that the runway extension would benefit airport companies, pilots and the surrounding communities. He used the wildfire response as an example.
“It’s about helping the population … because Aurora Airport can operate more planes and better protect them within better range,” he said.
Bennett acknowledged, however, that plane crashes are rare.
“If you’re not a pilot, it’s hard to understand. You don’t wait for a crash to do things differently,” he said.
Part of the bill that Meeker was receptive to was a requirement that an environmental impact assessment be completed prior to the expansion of the airport containing “alternative methods of air pollution control from aviation”.
“It is more than feasible for the board to talk about adding additional requirements to take a look at emissions. This may result in a low cost that Oregon would have to bear,” she said. “To get people’s peace of mind, I think we can do that.”
Meeker also said the board would be in favor of incorporating the airport into the city of Aurora.
“The board has said for decades that we prefer local control,” she said.
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