Local View: Federal funding for Grove Field carried many risks

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On behalf of the Port of Camas-Washougal commissioners, I can assure readers that the port is committed to transparency in its dealings and, to that end, the commissioners wish to share the thought process that helped them reach the July 19th decision not to accept FAA funding for Grove Field, which would have obligated the port for an indefinite period of time.

It is incumbent upon the commission to take actions that avoid risk to the port and benefit all residents. The recent decision to preserve port control over Grove Field airport and to not accept federal funds for the airport is one example. In our opinion, the obligations and risk associated with federal funding of the airport would have put the port in an unacceptable position of uncertainty and risk due to many factors, including the following:

The loss of control over Grove Field in perpetuity: If Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds are used for the purpose of land acquisition, then the obligation to operate the airport would continue in perpetuity and would not be discharged by repaying these funds. It is the intent of this commission to preserve and maintain Grove Field as an active, recreational airport for the benefit of the community.

Funding uncertainties: While the source of FAA funding for airport improvements is from taxes paid on fuel and by passengers and commercial airlines using airport facilities, FAA funding is by no means assured, as described in the July 23, 2011, FAA article in The Columbian. Furthermore, it’s subject to congressional authorization and the allocations through fiscal year 2012 are already in place. Grove Field is considered a third-tier airport and the port would necessarily have to wait its turn until future years. For fiscal years 2013 and 2014, Grove Field would be in third-place priority behind commercial aviation and larger general aviation fields such as Hillsboro and Troutdale, in Oregon. In addition, Washington state is only one player in a very large FAA region.

Potential risk: Existing through-the-fence operations introduce uncertainty, complexity and risk. The FAA discourages such operations, particularly residential access, and a remedial plan must be in process by the time of grant application. FAA’s interim policy in place now will be reviewed in 2015. These existing agreements are partially responsible for Grove Field’s failure to be in compliance with FAA standards.

Relocation of mobile home park: FAA funding of the relocation of the nearby mobile home park is an arduous and complex process and involves the “Federal Relocation Act” that would come into play under FAA administration and is filled with uncertainty.

Decline of general aviation: According to data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, recent statistics indicate a decline in active pilots, student pilots and the manufacture of small aircraft specifically suited for use at A-1 and B-1 airports, such as Grove Field. This downward trend is expected to continue over the next ten years, and portends an uncertain future. According to FAA, they anticipate General Aviation numbers of A-1 and B-1 planes will not return to the year 2000 levels until 2040.

Current economic development efforts: It’s our opinion that the port should pass up the opportunity for federal funding and put a greater emphasis on other major projects already in the works. These projects are expected to bring a greater value to the community as a whole. Currently the port is undertaking an analysis of the necessary cleanup and planning for future waterfront development. Separately, the port is conducting the stormwater analysis phase of the 125-acre Steigerwald Commerce Center parcel, east of the existing industrial park.

In addition, our recent agreement with the cities of Camas and Washougal to form the Camas Washougal Economic Development Association is expected to spur community development and bring new businesses and needed jobs to the area.

David Ripp is executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal.