Port seeks and receives public comments on Airport ordinance 23

April 30, 2011

The Port of Hood River is working to finalize an ordinance that regulates conduct at the Ken Jernstedt Airfield.

Airport Ordinance 23, currently in the draft and public comment phase, is the first port ordinance directed specifically and entirely at Hood River's airport, which the agency has owned and managed since 1976.

The ordinance, drafted by port staff at the request of the port commission, was created with collaboration from an airport advisory committee and Federal Aviation Administration staff. Pending public comments and revisions, port staff hopes to have the ordinance presented to the commission for approval by June.

"This draft has been about a year in the works," said Mike Doke, port marketing manager. "The airport, over time, is seeing more and more activity. It has changed a lot over the last 10 years; and it has done a lot of growing up over the last few years. Ordinance 23 is a broad-based ordinance intended to regulate conduct at the Ken Jernstedt Airfield for the safety and enjoyment of everyone who uses it."

In section 26 of the ordinance, a Declaration of Emergency is described, signifying that the ordinance would take effect immediately upon passage:

"Because it is important to reduce risks of harm to persons and property associated with Airport use as soon as possible due to increasing Airport use in spring and summer, and because the FAA has requested the Port to enact an ordinance regulating certain Airport activities, therefore, an emergency is declared to exist."

Some sections of the ordinance are general grounds keeping orders: No fireworks (section 5), no camping (section 7), no hunting unless with written permission (section 9), aircraft storage (section 11), parking regulations (section 13) and vehicle speed limits (section 16). For those sections, the ordinance spells out policies that have already been in action at the airport for years, while listing official penalties and fines for violating those rules.

Other sections propose new regulations and rules, some of which have drawn criticism from some airport users.

Written and verbal complaints about Ordinance 23 have been made to the port by several glider operators, who say that, if passed, the ordinance would be unfair, unsafe and, in some cases, potentially illegal.

"I've been flying in Hood River for more than 20 years," pilot Gary Boggs told the port commission at an April 19 public meeting. "The plan, as is in Ordinance 23, is not safe and should not be implemented. I'm really concerned that the port is setting itself up for a huge liability."

Boggs, a longtime Hood River pilot and the Soaring Society of America Governor for the state of Oregon, cites several sections of the ordinance in which he believes the port is overstepping its jurisdiction and creating potentially hazardous conditions with new rules.

"In my opinion, Ordinance 23 singles out glider operations and creates restrictions, specifically for gliders, that would create unfair restrictions and compromise our ability to operate as safely as possible," Boggs said.

Among his greatest concerns, Boggs sites section 17 of the draft ordinance, which addresses glider operations, includes layout plans for new "Glider Support" and "Glider Operations" areas and rules-out vehicles to be used to taxi gliders into position for takeoff.

"One problem is that it places gliders about a thousand feet down the runway," Boggs said. "If we are not permitted to use a vehicle to taxi a glider to the end of the runway, our option is to either push the glider back the thousand feet by hand - tying up the entire runway in the process - or take off from about a third of the way into the runway. Neither of those options makes any sense, and both would create safety hazards."

Judy Newman, glider pilot and director of Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, also addressed the port commission this month with concerns about the ordinance.

"A glider cannot taxi itself around a runway; some kind of vehicle is needed," said Newman, who ran a glider business out of Hood River in the 1980s. She disagreed with Boggs about the safety of taking off from a location other than the back of the runway, however, noting that when she operated gliders at the airstrip it was common to take off from a similar location near the office and there were no incidents.

Since the April 19 meeting, Doke said the port had reviewed comments about the draft, both good and bad; and by deadline Friday morning, he said that some sections of the draft will be changed.

"That's the point of this process," he said. "We put the draft out to get feedback, and now we are making changes to account for it."

He said changes will include taking out the section that restricted vehicles that have been used at the airport for years to taxi gliders and antique airplanes.

"The point is to be as safe as possible," Boggs said. "And with gliders, the more space we have to take off, the higher the planes are when they cross the end of runway; and the safer it is. It just doesn't make sense to create a system for gliders that would have us take off from anywhere but the back of the runway."

In May 2009 the Hood River County Commission approved the Ken Jernstedt Airfield Airport Master Plan. A significant component of that plan was the agreement to shift the airport's 3,040-foot runway about 550 feet to the east to increase the buffer zone between the end of the runway and Tucker Road. The runway shift will require overtaking a section of Orchard Road adjacent to the east end of the airport, which will cut off through traffic and create dead ends on both side of the runway.

The plan, as explained on the port website: "While the airport's runway will not be any longer, it will see a significant move to the east, allowing westbound aircraft to gain more height before flying over the state highway. By vacating Orchard Road on the east side, the potential for accidents involving plans and ground vehicles is diminished."

Following comments on the issue, and changes regarding vehicle use to taxi gliders, Doke said the port would like to have tow planes and gliders take off from the east end of the runway.

"We're will need to figure out the best way to get gliders to the end of the runway," he said.

Newman credited the port's efforts, but did say there were issues with the scope of the ordinance.

"They are working hard and have good intentions," she said. "I think they're trying to make things run smooth and get everyone working together out there. But I think things got too detailed; they got into a can of worms. There's stuff in there that really isn't the port's problem to address; a lot of it is already covered in the FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations, a universal set of standards and guidelines required to be followed at all airports)."

"The important thing to remember is that this is still in the public review phase," Doke said regarding public issues with the ordinance. "People can submit letters and they can come to the commission's public meetings to voice their concerns. This is the time to hear those concerns, and to make changes."

As elected officials, Doke noted, the commission has a responsibility to hear legitimate concerns of the public and make decisions accordingly.

The FAA confirmed this week that they had received a complaint from an operator at Ken Jernsedt Airfield.

"There will be an informal review and assessment of information to determine further action, if appropriate," said Mike Fergus, FAA media relations.

Fergus explained that since the port receives federal grant money for the airport, the agency is required to adhere to certain rules and conditions, including nondiscrimination.

The FAA Airport Improvement Grant Program states, "It will make the airport available as an airport for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination to all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical activities, including commercial aeronautical activities offering services to the public at the airport.

"The allegation is based on possible violation of the Assurance of non discrimination," Fergus said.

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