Hillsboro Airport runway project back in the limelight, familiar opponent primed for opposition
April 11, 2013
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  • HILLSBORO — Arrivals and departures are down at Hillsboro Airport, but Port of Portland officials say the state’s second-busiest airport needs a third runway to accommodate future growth.

    The Port, which owns and operates the general aviation airport surrounded by Oregon’s fifth-largest city, is in the midst of a public comment period connected to the runway project. A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

    It’s not a new issue, or a done deal. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of airport opponents two years ago, who argued that the Port failed to study the environmental impact of adding a 3,600-foot runway.

    The Federal Aviation Administration determined that a closer look at the environmental effects of an additional runway was needed.

    The 2011 court ruling said it “strains credulity” to argue that adding capacity at the airport would have zero bearing on flight schools, businesses and private owners relocating to Hillsboro.

    The Port responded with a 246-page draft supplemental environmental assessment, which reaffirmed the need for another runway due to projected congestion and increased delays at the airport.

    Operations, the measure of combined takeoffs and landings at an airport, took a decided dip in recent years. “In 2011, there were approximately 214,243 annual aircraft operations, or 11% less operations than occurred in 2007,” according to the report.

    Steve Nagy, general aviation manager at the Port, said that’s because of the economy. He said the Port forecasts one percent annual growth.

    An estimated 15 new arrivals and departures per day would occur if a new runway was constructed, based on responses from area pilots likely to shift their home base to an expanded airport.

    “The lower activity levels of the new forecasts would produce less environmental effects than disclosed in the original Environmental Assessment,” according to the report. Because of the decreased activity at the airport there were “no unanticipated cumulative impacts” that differed from the original assessment in 2005.

    Despite the dip in activity, the Port is “well within the appropriate timeframe” to add capacity based on FAA guidelines, Renee Dowlin, the Port’s air-quality program manager, said in an email.

    With flight training, private aircraft and corporate aircraft, there are many reasons to expect growth, according to Nagy. “We’re situated in the center of Oregon’s high-tech and economic community,” Nagy said. “And so a lot of our demand is based in response to that.”

    The issue of the runway, proposed to be 3,600 feet long and 60 feet wide, is not likely to be resolved soon. Nagy said the Port hasn’t made any decisions, and will factor in public comment prior to submitting its final plans to the FAA.

    Miki Barnes, a long-standing critic of the airport and a party to the 2011 court case, said she plans on continuing to fight what she said will “nearly double the capacity of the airport.”

    She said the document is “pretty sketchy on information” and the pilot survey “obfuscates rather than reveals information.”

    “What we would like is a full environmental impact statement done,” she said, saying the airport’s runway plan posed a health issue to the community.

    Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials in March said they were awaiting a determination from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency whether to further study air quality at the Hillsboro Airport.

    That issue, it seems, is put to bed. The EPA “currently has no plans to do any monitoring at the airport,” according to Mark MacIntyre, EPA public affairs specialist.