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Airport plan nears completion

LEE PERLMAN
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO

The Airport Futures process by the Port of Portland and the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is nearing completion, possibly by the March 16 meeting of the project's Planning Advisory Group.

Last month the group received interim reports on its Land Use and Sustainability components. City Planner Jay Sugnet reported that a subcommittee has decided to place an overlay zone, with special regulations, over Portland International Airport and nearby grounds. The exact nature of the overlay is still being debated, he said, but it will include the following components:

o A height zone, limiting the height of structures in known flight paths will be extended slightly to the east and also to nearby parts of east Portland not previously included.

o A new 55 decibel noise level contour will be implemented. There is already a 65 DNL contour, designating where airport-generated noise consistently reaches this level; within its perimeter, new structures must provide very effective sound-proofing and insulation measures. The proposed new contour, covering twice the area of the existing contour, would not include development regulations, but would have a mandatory disclosure clause for property sales.

o The airport itself will now be an Allowed Use in this zone, rather than a Conditional Use as it has been up to now. Moreover, Sugnet said, “The city's preference is to not regulate the airport.” However, there will be a public review process when the level of use reaches 15 million passengers annually (Sugnet says it is now slightly over 13 million), or for any permitted project that involves 10,000 or more square feet of space and/or costs $500,000 or more.

PAG member and Cully neighborhood activist Erwin Bergman said he thought the triggers for review were too high, while another member, Alesia Reese of Woodland Park neighborhood, thought they were too low.

The matter would not receive formal regulatory review, but would go to a proposed Citizen Advisory Committee. “The Port would not be required to do what the committee says, but it would be a chance to start a dialogue,” Sugnet said.

Like all federal agencies, the Oregon Air National Guard would be exempt from regulation. Lt. Col. Stuart Mathew told the PAG, “We adhere to federal building standards and try to comply with local standards as best we can.”

Consultant Sean Loughran discussed the plan's sustainability goals.

PAG member John Weigant protested that the goals were out of balance. “The world is on an unsustainable path, which can't be maintained,” he said. “Your environmental statement is so soft you can't get hold of it. Next to it is a statement that says, 'Grow like hell.'”

Loughran said, “The intent is to give direction on where we want to go, not figure out the details of how we get there.”

Reese asked, “What are the consequences of not meeting the goals?”

“The end of the world,” Loughran said. Less facetiously, he said, “With regard to our goals for energy cost reduction, we got close but didn't quite get there. It's still a good goal.”

The PAG eventually voted to approve the work so far, with Weigant dissenting.

Later in the meeting, the Port's Chris Corich reviewed current data on the airport's cost per passenger. “The biggest factor here is that our passenger level has tanked,” he said. “If that continues, even if we don't spend another penny, our cost per passenger will go through the roof, and that's a concern.”

He added, “We spent a lot of money in the '90s, and fate conspired against us. We made major improvements to Concourse D for the sake of Delta, and then they changed their business model. Now we're trying not to spend money on new projects if they're not necessary. That fits in nicely with our sustainability goals.” He noted that new runway paving projects will utilize concrete rather than asphalt. “That costs more up front, but has less cost and environmental impact downstream,” Corich said. “We're trying to get smarter about building sustainability into our everyday decisions.”

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