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Injunction to halt airport runway is denied


Oregon Aviation Watch loses fight against Hillsboro Airport expansion

An appeals court has denied a watchdog organization's motion to halt construction of a new runway at the Hillsboro Airport.

On Wednesday morning, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling on an Oregon Aviation Watch filing that sought "emergency injunctive relief" to put the skids on the runway, the airport's third.

"Petitioners' motion for an injunction pending appeal is denied," read an excerpt from the court's decision.

Although the language in the court's two-page order is couched in legalese, the significance of the ruling was clear to officials with the Port of Portland, which owns and operates the airport.

"We received notice this morning the injunction was denied," said Kama Simonds, spokesperson for the Port of Portland. "From our perspective, the Port can proceed with building the runway."

On July 21, citing “numerous adverse environmental and public health impacts,” Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW) filed the appeal in the Ninth Circuit, challenging the construction of a third runway at the Hillsboro Airport.

Sean Malone, attorney for OAW, a Banks-based nonprofit organization focused on eliminating adverse impacts from aviation activity, filed the motion for emergency injunctive relief pending appeal. OAW’s filing pointed to “a number of inaccuracies contained in the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Final Supplemental Environmental Assessment on the third runway.”

The Port of Portland owns the Hillsboro Airport and has been planning to add a third runway, called the Hillsboro Airport Parallel Runway Project, since 2009. Port officials contend the new 3,600-foot runway would reduce congestion and improve efficiency and safety at the airport.

Construction on the runway had been slated to start in July and be completed by spring 2015.

“The injunctive relief filing was necessitated by the Port (of Portland)'s announcement that it intended to construct the third runway before the case is heard in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” explained OAW President Miki Barnes. “Our attorney filed for injunctive relief on July 1. The Port of Portland and FAA submitted their reply briefs two weeks later. Our attorney submitted our response to their reply on July 21.”

In the wake of the court's July 30 decision, OAW officials were assessing how to proceed.

"Needless to say, we are very disappointed," Barnes said. "At this point, we are reviewing our options regarding how best to move forward."

Port of Portland officials contended the OAW's legal filing was frivolous.

"OAW challenged the FAA’s decision to approve the project," said Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson before the court reached its decision. "The Port believes the OAW’s challenge lacks merit and should be dismissed."

Barnes and OAW claimed that even without the proposed expansion, members of the community are "subject to multiple negative effects generated by this facility including, but not limited to, noise, lead exposure, pollution, property devaluation, safety risks and security concerns.”

“The proposed expansion, which will nearly double the capacity at this airport, will likely double the negative impacts as well," Barnes said July 22. "Yet despite legitimate community concerns and without waiting for a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Port announced plans to begin construction this summer.”

On June 11, the Port of Portland Commission approved the awarding of the runway construction contract to Eugene-based Wildish Standard Paving Company.

"The contractor was given a limited notice to proceed, to allow for mobilization in advance of actual construction. To date, no construction of the runway has occurred," Johnson said before the court's ruling was announced.

OAW has been battling the proposed new runaway since 2010. After the FAA issued a “finding of no significance” regarding the project in January 2010, OAW filed a lawsuit challenging whether the FAA’s environmental analysis was sufficient. In response to that lawsuit, in August 2011 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the decision to the FAA and instructed the agency to take another look at the potential environmental impacts of the third runway.

After reviewing the project, in February of this year the FAA again found that the runway would not have a significant impact on the environment. After the FAA’s February ruling, Johnson said the runway project would go forward unless a court specifically ordered a halt to the project.

With the court's decision behind them, Port officials expect to move swiftly on the runway project. Construction of the Hillsboro Airport parallel runway is expected to begin next week.

"Now that the Port has received the court’s order, we can proceed with the final few administrative steps necessary on our end to move the project forward," Simonds explained.