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County says trees near airport will be cut in emergency

In event of forest fires, cottonwoods will be removed swiftly

Multnomah County officials will allow trees near the Troutdale Airport to come down swiftly if the U.S. Forest Service determines there is an emergency need to do so.

About 300 to 500 cottonwood trees currently are obstructing the flight path at the airport, which has been used in the past as a critical base for air tankers that battle forest fires.

Because of local, state and federal land-use and environmental regulations, the proposed removal of those trees has been delayed for months. Forest Service officials and others are worried that, as the Northwest's peak forest-fire season arrives, the air tankers must be diverted to airports farther away.

However, county officials decided Tuesday that they would be able to allow rapid removal of the trees if a major fire erupts and the Troutdale Airport, which is owned by the Port of Portland, is needed.

'Our land-use lawyers have determined that this can be a simple process,' says Rob Fussell, chief of staff to County Chairwoman Diane Linn. 'If there is an emergency, the Forest Service can call the port and say, 'Cut the trees down, we need to land our planes.''

Chainsaw-wielding work crews could take the trees down in two to three days, Fussell says. Normally, he adds, it takes time anyway for the airport to gear up for firefighting operations.

'It's not typical that they wouldn't have warning. They have to be ready for reloading at Troutdale,' Fussell says.