OAW Prepares to Appeal: FAA Finding of No Significant Impact on Hillsboro Airport Third Runway Proposal

By Miki Barnes, MSW, LCSW
March 9, 2014

The Final Supplemental Environmental Assessment and Record of Decision for the new runway at the Hillsboro Airport (HIO) are Available for a 10 Day Informational Review Period Starting 3/5/14.

The documents can be accessed at http://www.portofportland.com/Notices/PDX_HIO_Fnl_Splmntl_Env_Asmnt_BLT.htm (to obtain a CD copy of the SEA send an email to marla.harrison@portofportland.com)

OAW Supports EIS

Oregon Aviation Watch, in their testimony challenging the proposed third runway at the Hillsboro Airport (HIO), urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to engage in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before approving a third runway at HIO. An EIS would have required the agency to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of expanding HIO.

In consideration of the significant health effects posed by the noise and multiple toxins generated by HIO aviation activity, a full Environmental Impact Statement is in order. Neither the Port of Portland (Port) nor the FAA has ever engaged in an EIS at HIO despite the fact that this airport started out as a grassy airstrip in 1928 and is now the largest general aviation facility in the state.

The FAA chose instead to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) claiming that the proposed runway will have "no significant impact on the quality of the human environment." HIO, which is surrounded on three sides by residential communities, primarily serves a private, for-profit flight training school and, to a lesser extent, recreational pilots, corporate jets and air taxis, all of whom are major beneficiaries of the corporate welfare handouts dispersed to the airport via federal and state Connect Oregon dollars.

HIO and Environmental Toxicity

In arriving at their decision the FAA and Port chose to ignore crucial environmental information and demonstrated once again their willingness to recklessly compromise the health and well-being of the residents of Hillsboro and the surrounding area.

  • HIO plays a significant role in polluting the air quality throughout the region.
  • HIO is the largest facility source of lead pollution in the state of Oregon and ranks 21st nationwide among nearly 20,000 airports in lead emissions.
  • HIO is Washington County's largest facility source of acrolein, 1,3 butadiene, ethyl benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, organic carbon particulate matter 2.5, elemental carbon particulate matter 2.5, and carbon monoxide.
  • HIO is the second largest source of nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter 2.5 emissions in the county, surpassed only by Stimson Lumber in Gaston, Oregon.
  • HIO is the third largest source of volatile organic compounds in Washington County, surpassed only by Stimson Lumber in Gaston and DMH Inc. in Forest Grove.

All of the toxins listed above contribute to an array of adverse health conditions including cancer, respiratory problems, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and kidney ailments. Lead in particular is known to have a pernicious and possibly irreversible impact on children. The CDC and EPA agree that there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood. Even at low exposure levels previously believed to be safe, lead is linked with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and diminished IQs as well as behavior and learning problems. In adults it is associated with cardiovascular disease, kidney ailments, miscarriages, dementia, and increased violence.

The poor air quality in Hillsboro and Washington County is so compromised that the Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF) has identified Hillsboro as a 'hotspot' due to "extremely high levels of air toxics, at more than 120 times above the benchmark level." The CLF further noted that "there are much larger areas, often surrounding these hotspots, with air toxic levels that are 81 to 120 times above the benchmarks" including "a large area of Washington County between Tigard and Hillsboro."

Port of Portland Governance - An Affront to Democracy

A December 2013 letter authored by Vince Granato, Port of Portland Chief Operating Officer and addressed to FAA Airport Division Manager, Sarah Dalton appeared in the "Finding Of No Significant Impact" (FONSI) ruling. It contained the following quote, "The airport management board for HIO (as well as airports in Portland and Troutdale, Oregon) consists of a nine-member Board of Commissioners of the Port of Portland. Oregon Revised Statutes, 778.205. By law, the Board of Commissioners must include at least two members who are residents of each county within the Port district. HIO is located within Washington County, and two members of the Board, Diana Daggett and Tom Tsuruta, are residents of Washington County. Ms Daggett is a resident of the city of Hillsboro, where the airport is located." Granato went on to state that the commissioners had voted in support of the expansion on at least 3 occasions.

It is important to note that the board commissioners referenced above, Daggett and Tsuruta, are not elected and to our knowledge have engaged in no community outreach whatsoever. Decisions about HIO are made in Portland with very little public input. For the most part, Port Commissioners remain shielded from the public while engaging in an authoritarian decision making process that is seriously lacking in democratic safeguards and rigorous scientific environmental review.

The Port of Portland Board of Commissioners is the only board in the state that has been accorded municipality status on par with counties and cities. The very existence of a municipal board with no elected representation makes a complete mockery of the democratic process and relegates this FONSI decision to the realm of imperial decree. Due to the inherent bias of this board in conjunction with their lack of relevant and meaningful engagement with impacted residents, their vote is an affront to the community. The fact that the nine-member Port of Portland Board of Commissioners cares so little about the environment and health of area residents should be a cause for alarm that precipitates a broader discussion on the failure of this board to engage in responsible decision making.

Because the FONSI ruling represents a pervasive, entrenched, and institutionalized indifference to the health and well-being of the community and promotes an ongoing assault on the environment, Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW) is preparing to appeal this decision yet again to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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