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Energy center emissions could cause fatalities, FAA models show

Prior to the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council’s rebuttal evidence period, closing Friday, May 1, the Friends of the Columbia Gorge will enter evidence they say makes it clear plans to build the Troutdale Energy Center near the Troutdale Airport should be stopped.

Mary Rosenblum, president of the Oregon Pilots Association, said the new modeling program from the Federal Aviation Administration shows thermal plumes from the proposed gas-fired energy plant would create a 1 in 100 risk of severe turbulence for the types of aircraft that use the Troutdale Airport, and could potentially lead to dozens of fatal accidents.

“The modeling results exceed our worst fears,” Rosenblum said in a press release. “If the TEC facility is constructed, we would have to advise all pilots to avoid the northern flight pattern at Troutdale or risk a fatal accident. That risk is obviously unacceptable. We do not understand how the Port of Portland and the DOE (Department of Energy) both can ignore the Department of Aviation’s opposition to this project.”

This seemingly new data is not new information to the Port of Portland, however, which owns and operates the Troutdale Airport at 999 N.W. Frontage Road — and also the land proposed for the TEC.

“We did our due diligence in 2013 on this issue and we reached similar conclusions,” said Kama Simonds, Port of Portland public information officer. “There is a low probability, in this case I believe it was a 1 percent chance, that the cooling tower output could come into the same area where an aircraft could be operating. We also recognize there can be solutions for this possibility.”

Rick Till, conservation legal advocate for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said the data is more severe than that.

“Without a doubt it shows this is not the place to construct this type of energy facility,” Till said. “It’s incompatible with the use for the airport.”

The Friends cite a memorandum released by the FAA in January, evaluating the impact on flights from thermal exhaust plumes. The memorandum concluded the risk of flight disruption is low, but there may be an issue for planes taking off and landing near these plumes.

Simonds said the Port is aware of this memorandum, noting the FAA already issued a warning to the TEC developer.

“When the FAA issues a 74-60 (warning), they acknowledge there are obstructions in the airspace and it accounts for that,” she said. The 74-60 designation serves as a warning to aircraft to take an alternate route around obstructions such as cranes that may be in use in the flight path — or, in this case, potential thermal plumes.

“We understand there is a potential solution the FAA could do,” Simonds said. “We don’t regulate the airspace, so we rely and truly defer to the FAA, because that’s their task and their main objective.”

Till said the Friends of the Columbia Gorge feel the DOE has ignored these findings, and they intend to submit data to the Oregon EFSC for consideration of the TEC application.

The proceedings are still underway and will likely not be resolved for months.

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