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Watchdog group files new runway appeal

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently gave a second green light to the planned construction of a new runway at the Hillsboro Airport, but opponents have issued notice there will be another appeal.

In 2009, planning began in earnest for what is being called the Hillsboro Airport Parallel Runway Project. The airport’s owner, the Port of Portland, proposed construction of a third runway as a way to reduce congestion and improve efficiency at the airport. The new runway would be parallel to and 700 feet east of the existing main runway. It is proposed to be 3,600 feet long and 60 feet wide and is intended for use by fixed wing, piston engine and propeller-driven airplanes.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - A new hangar is being built on the east side of the airport, reflecting the increased activity at the Hillsboro Airport. Airport officials want to build a new runway to help alleviate congestion at the facility.

In 2010, a “finding of no significant environmental impact” (FONSI) was issued, and the runway project was expected to move forward.

“After the first approval in January 2010, a group of local residents filed a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the FAA’s environmental analysis,” said Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson. “In August 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the decision to the FAA, with instructions that the FAA consider the environmental impact, if any, of increased airport activity resulting from a new runway.”

Johnson said the Port of Portland and the FAA complied with the court’s order and prepared a Supplemental Environmental Assessment, which was completed in February of this year.

On Feb. 21, Kathryn Vernon, the FAA’s regional administrator, signed off on a new report that reached the same basic conclusions as the first — determining the project would “not significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”

“The FAA has again approved the Port’s proposal to build a parallel runway at the Hillsboro Airport,” Johnson said. “The FAA has again issued a ‘finding of no significant impact’ and approved the project. The Port is now in the process of bidding the contract for the runway construction project.” 

However, in late April, Oregon Aviation Watch — a Banks-based nonprofit organization focused on eliminating adverse impacts from aviation activity — issued a statement that it intended to appeal the FAA’s finding of no significant impact “pertaining to the highly controversial proposal to construct a third runway at the Hillsboro Airport.”

Opponents of the project said they are concerned about the adverse environmental impacts of lead stemming from airport operations. Oregon Aviation Watch disputed the FAA’s findings, explaining that lead is a neurotoxin that was removed from automotive fuel and paint years ago due to its effects on human health.

Miki Barnes, president of Oregon Aviation Watch, said the new runway could significantly increase lead pollution at the airport, and disagreed with the FAA’s conclusions.

Barnes said there are potentially serious impacts related to adding another runway, and she cited 2011 Environmental Protection Agency “national emissions inventory” documentation to make her case.

“The Hillsboro Airport is a major facility source of lead, acrolein, butadiene, ethyl benzene, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and a host of other air toxics that are potentially harmful to the health and well-being of area residents,” Barnes explained Tuesday. “In addition, multiple studies have identified aircraft noise as a serious health hazard.”

On April 21, Sean Malone, Eugene-based attorney for Oregon Aviation Watch, formally filed notice that the new FONSI would be appealed.

Johnson said the Port of Portland planned to move forward, barring an order from the court to halt the project.

“A group of local citizens has again filed a petition for review with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Johnson said. “This action, by itself, does not prevent the Port from moving forward with construction. The Port will, of course, comply with any court orders issued as a result of this new lawsuit, including an order to stop work.”

According to Johnson, runway construction is likely to start in July, with completion of the project anticipated by the spring of 2015.

Members of OAW contend that constructing a third runway at the airport would nearly double the airport’s capacity, with the potential to double lead emissions as well.

Barnes said a formal Environmental Impact Statement should be required.

“An Environmental Impact Statement would require the Port and the FAA to take a hard look at the widespread environmental impact of operating a publicly-subsidized international flight training school and other aviation businesses out of this airport,” said Barnes. “Had the Port engaged in this process from the outset, an appeal might not have been necessary.”

Barnes defended the latest appeal, which could further delay the runaway project that was initially slated for completion in 2011.

“Judicial appeal provides a system of checks and balances,” Barnes pointed out. “For the democratic process to remain intact, citizens should have a voice. If the Port moves forward without allowing the court to review legitimate community concerns, then the rule of law is reduced to a sham.”