I believe it would be in the community’s best interest to hear another perspective on the issues used by the Port of Camas/Washougal to not accept Federal grant funds to improve Grove Field.
Loss of Control
Airport supporters were working toward using FAA and State aviation trust fund money (money already collected that can only be used for aviation infrastructure) to bring Grove Field up to small airport, minimum design standards. The FAA would kick-in 95 percent and the State would kick in 2.5 percent of the funds. This project would improve safety and is needed to provide the minimum infrastructure to economically develop the airport (make it a place people want to do business).
In exchange for providing funding, the FAA wants the Port to agree to operate the airport for 20 years or payback the money on a prorated basis. All three Port commissioners have said that the airport will be around for a long time. If that is the case, then why not bring a $10 million infrastructure improvement project to our community to jump start our local economy with money that has already been collected from us?
In addition, the FAA wants any real property purchased with FAA money to remain an airport in perpetuity. If I gave you a piece of property to use in a way that I want, it would seem reasonable that I would want to be reimbursed for the property if you choose to do something else with it. And very little of this project involves real property acquisition.
Would you not apply for a loan for a new house because it was not a 100 percent sure thing that you would get the money? Why not work the program and if it doesn’t work out then you are no worse off. Furthermore, while Grove Field may be low on the priority totem pole, it’s only behind other airports that apply for the grant.
The FAA has made a couple course corrections about “Through The Fence” conditions in the last few years. While it is more complex than this, TTF at Grove refers to residential properties that affront and have access to Grove Field. About a year ago, Congress put the pressure on the FAA to consider allow existing TTF situations where appropriate –Congress did not think it was right for the FAA to change the requirements after some of these TTF condition have been operating very successfully for 20-plus years. Earlier this year, the FAA came out with their rule to allow existing TTF conditions as long is there is a plan to meet important conditions. This is essentially what their “interim rule” said back in 2009.
From research, I know that the FAA is flexible in what they want as a plan — it does not mean everything has to be pinned down. They just want a plan on how the airport owner will ultimately achieve their goals. I attended a couple meetings with those involved with the Grove Field TTF and was amazed how quickly the large majority of the group came to consensus on a plan.
Mobile Home Park
The mobile home park is not a big issue. In fact, one of the commissioners told me that he canvassed everyone present in the mobile home park one day and no one really had a problem with the airport. From a safety standpoint, the FAA recognizes the issue but it is not high on their priority list. The mobile home park dropped on their priority list when the Port acquired the property just south of the park. Pilots now have a clear area south of the mobile home park to land in an emergency. In fact, standard departure policy is to make a slight right turn on takeoff over the clear area to the south. If a pilot was to have a problem on landing, he/she would just glide in to the airport or, if necessary, jog to the left and land in the clear area.
General Aviation Decline
Practically every industry in the U.S. is in decline right now. Why should this mean that we would not take advantage of an opportunity to help reverse the decline at Grove Field? Grove Field is only 1 of 2 airports in Clark County and the existing aircraft owners and pilots in the area could easily bring money to the community. And of course this does not address the other benefits of Grove Field, e.g.: medivac, fire fighting base, emergency response (Grove is the only airport in area, on both sides of the River, above the 100-year flood plane, aviation career opportunities, etc.). My research on the general aviation industry is not as pessimistic as the Port is reporting. Many aviation experts agree that the industry will turn when the economy does. Why not be a part of that turn?
Other Economic Development Efforts
Our commission should be exploring and pursuing any and ALL ways it can bring economic development to the community. Grove Field is certainly one of those opportunities. This project could be managed by a consultant with fees paid by the grant.
Bob Elliot is a Camas resident.