The $3.3 million project funded by lottery-backed Connect Oregon grant

The Oregon Department of Aviation and Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce held a groundbreaking ceremony last Wednesday for the long-awaited new airport traffic control tower at the Aurora State Airport.

U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader was joined by Oregon Department of Aviation Director Mitch Swecker and Aviation Board Chairman Mark Gardiner for a formal presentation that also included a host of local dignitaries and business personalities.

“The new tower will enhance the safety and efficiency of the airport’s take-off and landing operations,” Swecker said. “The tower will have a significant impact in terms of noise mitigation by directing traffic over sparsely populated areas and limit flying over residential areas.”

The new $3.3 million tower has a planned height of 70 feet and a floor area of 5,600 square feet. It will provide air traffic controllers with unobstructed views of the airfield and also will allow for visual and electronic monitoring of takeoffs, landings and ground movement of aircraft. The tower was designed by St. Louis-based M&H Architecture. Centrex Construction of Tigard, meanwhile, will be the general contractor.

Construction is scheduled to be complete by 2015. The project is being paid for with lottery-backed Connect Oregon 3 grant funding.

“We appreciate the support and cooperation we have gotten from the many parties involved in making this tower a reality,” Gardiner said, “including the small and talented Oregon Department of Aviation staff who managed this project so well with the Federal Aviation Administration, and finally the support of the Oregon Legislature for their support of the Connect Oregon program that provides funding for these vital transportation projects.”

Aurora State Airport currently is the state’s third busiest airport. In 2012, it had a total of 39,225 total general aviation operations with a total of 117,675 general aviation visitors, according to a 2014 Oregon Aviation Plan Economic Impact Study carried out by the aviation department.

The report found that off-airport spending including lodging, food, entertainment, retail purchases, and ground transportation equals $1.95 million statewide, having an economic impact that reaches far outside the airport property.

“Expanding our aviation infrastructure is critical for the region’s economy,” said Darren Harmon, president of the Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce. “The airport attracts corporate headquarters and larger companies to Wilsonville that provide family wage jobs that benefit our citizens. We know that companies have chosen to locate in Wilsonville in part because of the airport and the ability of business executives to fly in and out of the region. Having an airport so close for corporate flights with a control tower gives Wilsonville a huge advantage when competing with other cities who cannot offer this.”

The air traffic control tower is just part of the expansion of Aurora State Airport hoped for by aviation interests, both locally and in Salem. An updated airport master plan currently calls for expansion of the airport’s runway to the south, which would require acquisition of current farmland, as well as construction of additional roads and other infrastructure to serve a larger facility.

Expansion opponents also take issue with aviation industry claims that expansion will provide a further economic boost to Wilsonville and surrounding communities.

“Very few of the owners of local aviation business owners live in Clackamas County, and neither do the majority of the employees at the airport,” Aurora resident Ben Williams told the Spokesman. Some Wilsonville residents, especially those in Charbonneau, also say an increase in jet traffic has been underway for some time and will only get worse with a control tower in place. In spite of FAA regulations adopted last fall that now require flights inbound to Aurora to approach from the east and outbound pilots to turn east or west to avoid residential areas on takeoff, they say the increase in traffic will more than outweigh any noise mitigation.

Charbonneau resident Tony Holt is the president of Positive Aurora Aviation Management, a local group that formed several years ago in response to perceived lack of a local voice in the airport master planning process.

“What is frustrating is there is such a push from the aviation people to do all of this development,” Holt said. “And it’s not like a Walmart coming in with public hearings, and it seems to me airport development is considered and done without restraint whatsoever apart from money.”

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