Hillsboro Airport Hearing in U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

August 29, 2016

A date has been set for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on the Hillsboro Airport third runway challenge. The legal proceedings are open to the public; however the deadline for submitting written and oral testimony has passed.

Hearing Date and Time: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 9:00 am
Location: Pioneer Courthouse, 2nd Floor Courtroom
Address: 700 SW 6th Ave., Portland, Oregon 97204

In 2014, when the Port of Portland (Port) moved forward with its plan to build a third runway at Hillsboro Airport (HIO), Oregon Aviation Watch raised legal challenges before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals urging the Court to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to assess the effect of the airport and its expansion on the surrounding community. In keeping with their characteristically cavalier attitude of using public money to subsidize private U.S. and foreign business interests at HIO, the Port proceeded to construct the runway in 2015. In so doing the Port and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opted to ignore, dismiss and minimize the numerous environmental, noise and livability concerns raised by area residents.

The purpose of the runway is primarily to accommodate the for-profit flight training industry largely on behalf of out-of state investors. One of the major beneficiaries of this arrangement is Hillsboro Aero Academy (formerly Hillsboro Aviation) - a company that recruits students from around the globe then proceeds to train them over area homes and neighborhoods. Per the company website, student pilots enrolled in this program annually log over 70,000 flight hours.[1]

In the 86 years during which HIO has grown from a grassy airstrip into the largest general aviation airport in the state, the Port of Portland has never taken a hard look or engaged in a thorough and comprehensive investigation of the environmental impacts of this facility by completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). As a result the full impact of HIO, which accommodates the largest flight training school in the Pacific Northwest, has never been evaluated. A review of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Port and FAA documentation reveals that HIO is now one of the biggest facility sources in the region of a host of air toxins and unwelcome noise intrusions.

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Background Information

Expansion Subsidized by Public

Though the more than $17 million lavished on the Port to cover the costs of this expansion were subsidized through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a Connect Oregon grant, and the Oregon Department of Transportation, the members of the public, who were forced to foot the bill, are routinely denied a substantive and meaningful voice in the process.

Lead Pollution and Other Toxic Emissions

The EPA has identified HIO as the largest facility source of airborne lead pollution in Oregon. Out of nearly 20,000 airports nationwide, HIO ranks in the top one percent, 21st in the nation in lead emissions.[2] Port and FAA forecasts project that HIO lead pollution will climb from an estimated emission level of 0.7 tons per year (tpy) in 2007[3] to 0.8 tpy in 2016 and 0.9 tpy by 2021.[4] However, the construction of a third runway at this airport has nearly doubled HIO's capacity, thus lead and other toxic emissions are likely to increase well beyond current Port and FAA projections.

In addition to lead, the 2011 EPA National Emissions Inventory (NEI) on air toxins in Washington County reveals that HIO is also the number one 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; the number two source of nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter 2.5 emissions; and the third largest source of volatile organic compounds in this jurisdiction. Yet the health and environmental impacts of these emissions were barely addressed in the initial and supplementary assessments on the HIO expansion.

It is also noteworthy that the Clean Air Act required the Port and FAA to report on 6 criteria pollutants known to pose a significant risk to public health and the environment.[5] Except for lead, which was estimated, the Port obtained its readings on these toxins - carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and particulate matter - from a DEQ monitor located 17 miles away in SE Portland. That is to say that no measurements specific to Hillsboro Airport were obtained. This careless approach towards reporting emission levels at HIO further underscores the need for a comprehensive, site specific environmental impact statement at HIO.


Port documentation on the third runway provided no information on any noise monitoring at HIO. Instead their environmental assessments relied on unsubstantiated estimates. No third party analysis or peer review was provided.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for Community Noise, noise pollution "has profound health implications" and further notes that, "Severe noise problems may arise at airports hosting many helicopters or smaller aircraft used for private business, flying training and leisure purposes."[6] This has proven to be the case for Washington County residents, who have filed numerous noise complaints over the years including written and oral testimony in opposition to the third runway. Yet despite their collective efforts to address the situation, residents are routinely subjected to disruptive aircraft noise intrusions throughout the day and nighttime hours, often by student pilots who circle repeatedly over homes, neighborhoods, residential properties, schools, daycare centers, prime farmland, waterways and recreational areas both in close proximity to the airport and over rural and woodland properties located 20 miles away.

WHO has documented seven categories of adverse health effects of noise pollution on humans including hearing impairment; interference with spoken communication; sleep disturbances; cardiovascular disturbances; disturbances in mental health; impaired task performance; and negative social behavior and annoyance reactions. WHO also states that, "Although everyone may be adversely affected by noise pollution, groups that are particularly vulnerable include infants, children, those with mental or physical illnesses, and the elderly. Because children are particularly vulnerable to noise induced abnormalities, they need special protection."[7]

Despite considerable documentation on the negative health consequences of noise, no safeguards to protect residents from the ill-effects of aviation noise have been instituted at HIO. Calls to the Port, the FAA, DEQ, and elected officials to address this issue have proven to be ineffective and futile.

Concluding Remarks

In 2010 the FAA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in response to the Port's initial environmental assessment on the proposed third runway at HIO. Three citizens - Patrick Conry, Blaine Ackley and Miki Barnes - challenged the decision. On August 26, 2011, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the FAA failed to take a "hard look" at the indirect environmental impacts of constructing a third runway at HIO. The case was then remanded back to the FAA. The Port subsequently prepared a supplemental environmental assessment, which was again challenged, but the Port and FAA proceeded to construct the runway before the appeal could be heard by the Court.

Oregon Aviation Watch firmly believes that the Port, FAA and State of Oregon did the community a grave disservice by constructing the runway before awaiting the Court's decision especially since there is no democratic avenue within the State of Oregon to voice legitimate concerns. Though the Port of Portland Board of Commissioners lays claim to municipality status, its members are appointed by the Governor, thus it is the only municipality in the State with no elected representation. In the absence of executive and legislative branch advocacy on behalf of residents regarding the significant public health, environmental, and livability impacts caused by aviation activity, impacted residents are left with no choice but to seek judicial remedy in the higher courts. That non-elected Port Commissioners, the FAA and the State of Oregon colluded in circumventing the legal process, speaks volumes about the lack of democratic principles regarding Oregon's aviation policy.


[1] Hillsboro Aero Academy website.

[2] EPA Memorandum from Marion Hoyer and Meredith Pedde to the Lead NAAQS Docket EPA-HQOAR-2006-0735. (11/8/10). Pg. 2-3. Available on-line at https://www3.epa.gov/otaq/regs/nonroad/aviation/memo-selc-airport-mon-stdy.pdf.

[3] Hillsboro Airport Parallel Runway 12L/30R. Draft Environmental Assessment. Volume 2 Appendices. Prepared for Port of Portland by CH2MHILL. (October 2009). Pg. C3 1-2.

[4] Hillsboro Airport Parallel Runway 12L/30R. Draft Supplemental Environmental Assessment. Appendix E - Air Quality Technical Memo. Prepared for Port of Portland by Barrilleaux, J. and Dowlin R. (3/15/13). Pg. 9-11.

[5] Criteria Air Pollutants. EPA. Available on-line at https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants.

[6] Noise Sources and Their Measurement. 2.2.2 Transportation Noise Community Health Noise Guidelines, edited by Berglund, B, Lindvall T., Schwela, D. World Health Organization. (1999). Available online at http://www.who.int/docstore/peh/noise/Commnoise2.htm.

[7] Hagler, Louis. Summary of Adverse Health Effects of Noise Pollution: Based on the World Health Guideline for Community Noise. Available online at http://www.noiseoff.org/document/who.summary.pdf.

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