Neighbors of Grove Field air concerns

County councilor leads charge for port to raise flight pattern to 1,000 feet

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The Port of Camas-Washougal's Grove Field Airport is located about three miles north of Camas. (Post-Record file photo)

Clark County Councilman Gary Medvigy recently went door to door to visit his neighbors at Grove Field north of Camas and talk to them about their opinions of the small airport. He carried a petition to collect signatures in an effort to persuade the Port of Camas-Washougal to raise the airport’s flight pattern to the federally mandated mark of 1,000 feet.

The results were nearly unanimous.

“Pretty much everyone that I talked to signed (the petition),” Medvigy said.

Medvigy delivered the petition, with 124 signatures to port director David Ripp at Monday’s commission meeting. He was one of 11 people, most of whom live at or near Grove Field, to express concerns about the future of the airport and its management.

At their previous meeting on March 18, the commissioners voted to delay voting on the implementation of an airport layout plan presented by commissioner John Spencer.

“I’m advocating for improvements,” Spencer said Monday, “but we, as a commission, don’t collectively have a vision for the airport yet.”

Medvigy has been working to persuade the port to move the pattern up from its current mark of 800 feet for several years. Retired from the United States Army, Medvigy, a volunteer pilot, is working to attain a commercial license through the G.I. Bill.

“The Federal Aviation Administration just republished it again last summer — 1,000 feet is the compromise for what they feel is good for noise abatement and safety for the pilots and the community. Pretty much every airport in this state as well as (the rest of the nation) have adopted that,” he said. “Everyone flying around is expecting a 1,000-foot pattern. Grove is below it. There actually is prescriptive federal regulations that say you’re not supposed to fly below 1,000 feet over congestion, schools, highways, parks (or) churches. By having a pattern at 800 feet, you’re causing the pilots to descend below 1,000 feet to land at Grove.”

Medvigy said the matter was in the port’s hands now.

“They own it. There are other things I can do, but I’m hoping they come to the right decision. They should’ve done it on their own to begin with,” he said.

Some people believe a move to 1,000 feet would be unwise and cite the higher patterns of nearby airports in Troutdale and Portland as a main reason for concern.

“The federal regulations don’t describe the traffic pattern. It’s best practices, if you will,” said Neil Calhoun of the Camas/Washougal Flying Club. “We have the opportunity to deviate and exercise good judgements. There are people that don’t use good judgements. Some level of policing may be necessary. Eight-hundred feet is delightfully safe. Moving to 1,000 feet would be a huge mistake. It would cause a safety issue.”

Spencer said he believes a study should be conducted and that there are “valid arguments on both sides.”

Some people, like Chuck Dowd, are concerned about the amount of noise planes make during takeoffs and landings.

“We have to find a way to eliminate it,” Dowd said. “If you don’t think the noise isn’t that bad, I invite you to sit on my deck and try to have a conversation with those planes flying overhead.”

Brett Webberley, who joined Medvigy on his search for signatures, said “everyone is annoyed” and that “pilots need to obey rules that are in place.”

Several people expressed their displeasure at what they see as a lack of communication from the port about the future of Grove Field.

“You hear a lot of rumors, and there’s not a lot of transparency,” Derrick Stark told the port commissioners. “I encourage you to reach out to the community and build our support instead of surprising us at the end.”

The commissioners said they were pleased with the feedback they received.

“The discussion is very healthy,” said commissioner Bill Ward. “I’m pleased that we’re appropriately taking small steps to do things right. We want to make sure we have the support of the community before going ahead.”

Before the public comment period commenced, Ripp told the commissioners that he has recently developed a multi-year improvement plan for the airport.

That plan includes: Port maintenance supervisor Travis Edwards becoming more of a full-time presence at the airport; dedicating the “blue barn” building as an office for Edwards and a flight planning facility for pilots; continuing its relationship with the ATC Camas flight school and attracting more flight-related businesses to the airport; moving a fuel tank away from one of the hangar doors; executing slurry seal improvements to the taxiway and runway; updating signage; and annexing the airport property into the city of Camas.

“We want to move this forward and get more active and be more of a presence out there,” Ripp said.