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Airport planning moves forward


A process for a new airport planning effort moved forward last month, with community leaders continuing to complain that the proposed process is flawed.

The Portland Planning Commission reviewed the proposal, as presented by city planner Christopher Corich of the Port of Portland, operator of the Portland International Airport, and city planner Jay Sugnet. The Port is updating its Year 2000 Airport Master Plan, which looks at alternatives for expansion of the passenger terminal, at a cost of $3 to $3.5 million. Future plans also call for a new south runway, with projected flight patterns that would bring jets over east Portland and Mid-county to a far greater extent than is now the case. Corich told the commission that this would only happen if usage increased to a half-million departures and arrivals, the level of activity of London’s Heathrow Airport.

The Port is also considering an alternative to the current conditional use master plan process by which the city reviews changes at PDX. Sugnet said that the current process “doesn’t work well for the Port, the city or the community.” It gives the Port a time-consuming process to go through in order to make changes at the facility without allowing the city to deal with many relevant issues or the community to have meaningful input into the process. The city is considering some special mechanism, such as a new zone or overlay, tailored to provide appropriate control of PDX development and activity.

The current controversy is over how this mechanism is arrived at, and opportunities for citizen involvement along the way. The Port proposed to put together a Public Advisory Group (PAG) that would supervise the project. Its original plan was to have each identified interest group have a delegate to the PAG, giving it a membership of 44 people. Deciding that this would be unwieldy, the Port proposed a 20-member group. Neighborhood representatives objected that the proposed membership was weighted in favor of the Port and users of the airport, as opposed to interests potentially impacted by its actions. The Port later added five more seats to the group: one for environmental organizations, two for Portland neighborhood associations, one for Vancouver or Clark County communities, and one for east Multnomah County citizens.

However, the Port balked at another neighborhood suggestion: that it open membership on subcommittees to non-PAG members. This, the Port objected, could lead to chaos; members of the public could attend any and all meetings, and would have an opportunity to speak at the beginning and end.

Hazelwood Neighborhood Association board member Linda Robinson told the commission that she was “particularly disappointed” in the Port’s position on the makeup of advisory committees. “The idea was to involve as many people as possible,” she said. She also said that the project study area “has to be bigger than just the airport.” The Port influences a much wider area through property acquisition, the noise and other impacts of its operations, and such environmental impacts as the widespread use of de-icing chemicals, she said.

Russell Neighborhood Association Chair Bonny McKnight called for the airport watchdog group Airport Information Roundtable (AIR) to have a seat on the PAG. She also asked that citizens be allowed to appeal to Portland City Council land-use decisions relating to the airport; its members, she pointed out, are elected and thus accountable, while commissioners appointed by the governor run the Port.

Planning Commission member Amy Cortese commented, “The PAG members will have a lot of meetings to go to. There seems to be merit to allowing others to participate.”

Sugnet replied, “There’s a difference between membership and participation.”

Corich added, “We think we’re putting up a very big tent, and people can come in a number of different ways. We’ve heard the concerns and responded to them.”

The public involvement plan will be reviewed by City Council sometime in April.

AIR member John Wygant brought forward yet another community suggestion: That the PAG be able to set its own rules, and not be controlled by the Port staff. “We’ll be doing things that have never been done before,” he said. “Flexibility is required.”

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