Hillsboro Airport plans no longer up in the air
Amidst a long and somewhat controversial process, officials have settled on a plan for the future of the Hillsboro Airport, one they say will best serve not only the community but also improve Oregon's second busiest airport.
Since February, a committee of community members, including Washington County commissioner-elect Jerry Willey, Hillsboro Planning Director Colin Cooper and Metro councilor-elect Juan Carlos González, have been working on a plan to decide what residents and government officials would like to see in the airport's future over the next 20 years.
On Thursday, June 21, the committee announced it had reached a decision of which of the handful of proposed plans the group would take to the Port of Portland, which operates the airport.
If approved, the 20 year Master Plan looks at moving Hillsboro Aero Academy flight school from its home on the south side of the airport to an as-yet unbuilt facility on the airport's northern edge. The plan also calls for the potential of new shops, restaurants and hotels to be built along the airport's south side.
Committee members have worked on the plans for months, hosting a series of community meetings, Q&As and other public feedback sessions, but the process is still really only getting started, said Steve Nagy, who manages the airport for the Port of Portland. It could take years before any changes are made to the airport.
Several flights schools operate out of the airport. The largest, Hillsboro Aero Academy, hugs the facilities southern edge at 3565 N.E. Cornell Road. The flight school's lease is set to expire in about eight years, Nagy said, at which time the facility may be asked to move.
"In the last master plan 10 years ago, we studied it and built a new runway on the east side of the airport that's mainly used for flight trainings," he said. "So the goal would be to somehow move the school that uses small airplanes for flight training near the smaller runway that's used by small aircraft, so that they don't have to taxi as far … When their lease runs out, and we negotiate if they want to stay here for a new lease, we would recommend that they move and build new facilities adjacent to the runway that's on the east side of the airport."
That would leave Hillsboro Aero Academy's current site free for development, Nagy said. The proposal would work with the new Washington County Event Center, which is expected to be built over the next few years at the Washington County Fair Complex across the street.
Nagy said the airport would work to "develop the south side of the airport to fit the needs of today, not of the past."
Plans call for a larger terminal building for corporate aircraft on the south side, as well as new commercial development, such as restaurants and shops.
Details on these are still in the early stages, Nagy said, but could include hotels, restaurants and coffee shops.
"It would create a district where it would have a good synergy between the fairground's development over time and (our) redevelopment," Nagy said.
The airport's main runway will undergo complete reconstruction next year, something that has been planned for a while and is not part of the current Master Plan, Nagy said. The main runway has not been substantially paved in 25 years, but Nagy said current plans don't call for the runway to change in size or formation.
Outside of the runway reconstruction, it will likely be years before residents start to see work done at the airport. The Planning Advisory Committee will hold its next meeting in October to discuss a timeline to bring the plans to fruition.
Nagy said there are still plenty of questions to answer.
'"How would you build some of those things over time?" Nagy asked. "How much would all of those items cost? How much of it will be things that we can qualify for federal grant funding for? How much of it would be private investment? How much of it is public investment that the Port might have to do?"'
Nagy said those conversations will include questions about impacts to local wetlands. The Port landed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2014 after a watchdog group criticized the Port for not having strong enough environmental assessments before building its third runway. The Court sided with the airport.
"We will be doing a screening analysis of the environmental consequences," Nagy said. "Will we be impacting wetlands? What will be the natural resource implications of these? Do we get into air quality issues, or any one of them better or worse than others? Do we have any storm water issues that would be challenging to resolve?"
The committee will "move forward and study deeper," on each of these issues, he said.
"We want to take that back out to the public and say, based on all the comments that we have heard and we have seen, 'What is the future going to be like? What can you expect to see over the next five, 10 and 20 years as both the fairgrounds develop and we develop?'"
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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