FAA funding would have been risky for Port

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The Port of Camas-Washougal is committed to transparency in its dealings and, to that end, the commissioners wish to share the thought process that helped them reach the decision made on July 19 not to accept FAA funding for Grove Field which would have obligated the Port for an infinite period of time.

It is the duty of port commissioners to make decisions that put a priority on benefits to port district residents that minimize risk to the port, allow appropriate time to research the issues, determine appropriate fiscal responsibility and ensure accountability to the public. 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 funds from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were used for the purpose of land acquisition, then the obligation to operate the airport would continue in perpetuity. This obligation would not be discharged by repaying these funds. (See FAA Compliance Manual, ch. 4, ch. 22). 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 of the airport is by no means assured, as described in the July 23, 2011, funding uncertainties FAA article in The Columbian. Furthermore, it’s subject to congressional authorization and the allocations through FY 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, Ore. and Troutdale, Ore. In addition, Washington State is only one player in a very large FAA region.

Potential risk

Existing through-the-fence (TTF) operations introduce uncertainty, complexity and risk. (See “TTF & Residential Use of Public Airports”, FAA, March, 2010). The FAA discourages TTF operations, particularly residential operations. These issues must be dealt with by the time of grant application and it has proven difficult to reach an understanding on access from property owners at Grove Field. The rules could also change since there is only an interim policy in place now. This 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

The relocation of the nearby mobile home park with FAA funding is an arduous and complex process. It 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. (AOPA General Aviation Trends Repot, Fourth Quarter 2010). This downward trend is expected to continue over the next 10 years. This decline of the general aviation industry 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 storm water 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, bring new businesses and needed jobs to the area.

Submitted by Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioners Bill Ward, Mark Lampton, Bill Macrae-Smith