Stop Aviation Noise Intrusions
File Complaints, Demand Action

Miki Barnes, LCSW
President, Oregon Aviation Watch
August 20, 2015

Oregon's “Pass the Buck” Aviation Noise Complaint Reporting Process Reflects an Entrenched System of Institutionalized Exploitation, Bullying and Lack of Civility

Oregon Aviation Watch believes that aircraft noise is a significant source of pollution in Oregon, especially due to the enormous amount of flight training that occurs in Washington County and neighboring jurisdictions.

As discussed in this posting, the response to valid community concerns regarding aviation noise pollution is routinely deflected, ignored and minimized in an effort to promote aviation interests over the greater good.

In an attempt to address the environmental degradation and loss of livability in conjunction with the diminished ability of area residents to enjoy their properties, Oregon Aviation Watch has developed a noise complaint form which will be sent to the government agencies, municipalities and educational institutions that are either causing the problem and/or those that are neglecting their responsibility to correct it.

You can access the Oregon Aviation Watch complaint form at this link: http://www.oregonaviationwatch.org/OAW-NoiseComplaint.php.

Complaints logged on this form will automatically be sent to Oregon Aviation Watch and the following recipients.

  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ)
  • Washington County Commissioners
  • Hillsboro Mayor and City Councilors
  • FAA Hillsboro Flight Standards Office
  • Portland Community College - President
  • Portland Community College Rock Creek - President
  • Port of Portland Noise Management Office

Oregon Aviation Watch also recommends filing complaints with Governor Kate Brown at 503-378-4582. In Oregon the governor bears responsibility for appointing members to the boards of the Port of Portland Commission and the Department of Aviation, both of which are responsible for promoting aviation interests while doing nothing to effectively monitor or reduce aviation noise.

Oregon Aviation Watch strongly urges negatively impacted residents to hold their local, state and federal legislators fully responsible for their willful negligence in addressing this serious matter. Contact information for other local, state, and federal representatives is available at File a Complaint.

Below is an explanation about the role the recipients listed on the noise complaint form have played in diminishing livability on behalf of the aviation industry.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ)

As noted by DEQ, “Reports from citizens are vital for effective enforcement of Oregon's environmental laws. You can report anything that you think is polluting land, air, or water.”[1]

According to OAR 340-035-0045

"The [Oregon Environmental Quality] Commission finds that noise pollution caused by Oregon airports threatens the public health and welfare of citizens residing in the vicinity of airports. To mitigate airport noise impacts a coordinated statewide program is desirable to ensure that effective Airport Noise Abatement Programs are developed and implemented where needed. An abatement program includes measures to prevent the creation of new noise impacts or the expansion of existing noise impacts to the extent necessary and practicable. Each abatement program will primarily focus on airport operational measures to prevent increased, and to lessen existing, noise levels. The program will also analyze the effects of aircraft noise emission regulations and land use controls;"[2]

A legal brief submitted to LUBA in 2014 by Washington County Counsel included the following statement:

"OAR 340-035-0054 does deal with airport noise (as distinguished from commercial and industrial noise), but makes clear that with respect to non-carrier airports no action is needed unless DEQ has received a complaint and been unable to resolve the situation."[3]

The foregoing quote underscores the importance of logging aircraft noise complaints with DEQ. Clearly Washington County relies on this data when making crucial decisions related to airport growth and development.

Please note, all airports in Washington County are non-carrier, general aviation airports as opposed to commercial facilities.

For the record, DEQ maintains that despite the existing laws in place in Oregon, it no longer addresses noise complaints. "Effective July 1, 1991, DEQ's Noise Control Program was terminated. The function is now performed by city, county and municipal governments."[4]

Herein lies the quandary. On the one hand Washington County relies on aviation noise complaints logged through DEQ, yet DEQ insists that "city county and other municipal governments" perform this function.

It is because of the confusing and contradictory nature of these directives that Oregon Aviation Watch strongly encourages impacted residents to contact both DEQ and their local municipalities.

Washington County Commissioners

Despite DEQ's claim that the regulation of aviation noise is performed by local municipalities, Washington County disavows all responsibility. In private correspondence to Miki Barnes, County Counsel Alan Rappleyea insists that "aircraft noise is regulated by state and federal law." He further noted that according to then Port of Portland Noise Manager, Jason Schwartz, "the FAA has jurisdiction of airspace and movement of aircraft, and preempts all regulation of airplane noise." This quote from Mr. Schwartz might prompt a reasonable person to ask why the Port of Portland maintains the pretense of managing noise at the Hillsboro Airport, particularly since the Port does not feel empowered to take definitive steps to remedy community noise concerns. In any case, his response explains the ineffectual nature of the Port noise office and why many residents, despite years of filing complaints, are still plagued by unwelcome noise intrusions.

Mr. Rappleyea also pointed out that insofar as the Hillsboro Airport is located in Hillsboro, the Washington County Charter Section 23, "specifically prohibits us from enforcing County Ordinances inside of cities."[5] This statement, however, fails to address the widespread nature of aircraft noise intrusions throughout Washington County, far beyond the boundaries of Hillsboro.

Also of note, the comment by Jason Schwartz that air traffic noise is federally preempted, does not stand up to scrutiny.

In a 5/22/01 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision - SeaAir NY, Inc., v. City of New York, et al (Docket No. 00-9096), SeaAir argued that City regulation of their air tour operations was preempted by federal statute. The court, however, disagreed. According to the court's findings, federal preemption does not apply to flights unless they are engaged in 'interstate air transportation.' 'Interstate air transportation' was explained as the movement of passengers, property or mail between one state and another. A sightseeing tour that begins and ends in the same place, even though it may fly over other states does not meet this criteria.

As noted earlier, all airports in Washington County are classified as general aviation rather than commercial air carrier passenger facilities. The majority of operations at the Hillsboro Airport, in particular, are on behalf of the flight training industry and as such the originate and end at the same airport. Thus federal preemption does not apply.

Earlier this spring, Washington County Commission Chair, Andy Duyck was on hand for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of a third runway at the Hillsboro Airport[6] - a runway that is intended to cater primarily to out of state flight training companies that recruit many of their students from outside the country. The training involves helicopters, fixed wing aircraft and jets. The for-profit aviation industry relies heavily on public handouts to subsidize airport infrastructure. The third runway, which cost approximately $17M, received funding from the FAA, Connect Oregon and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Hillsboro Mayor and City Council

  • Log complaints with Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey and members of the city council by calling 503-681-6219.
  • Email communications to the mayor and city council can be sent via http://www.ci.hillsboro.or.us/index.aspx?page=964.
  • Contact the city's code enforcement officer by calling (503) 615-6645.

Mayor Jerry Willey also attended the Hillsboro Airport third runway ribbon cutting ceremony discussed above.[7] Though two of the noisiest flight training airports in the area - Hillsboro and Stark's Twin Oaks - are located in Hillsboro, the mayor and city council have done very little to protect area residents from the negative impacts of aviation activity.

In fact, in 2010 the City of Hillsboro joined forces with the Port of Portland in an aggressive campaign to foist airport zoning on Hillsboro residents living within 6,000 feet of the airport. If that zoning had been enacted, property owners seeking land use approval would have been forced to sign easements giving the Port the right to subject these properties to noise, vibrations, fumes, dust, and fuel particle emissions associated with normal aircraft activity.[8]

In response to a citizen challenge, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) concluded that:

"...granting the Port an easement to physically invade private property would do nothing to reduce conflicts between the airport and surrounding land uses. The same conflicts (noise, etc,) would exist to the exact same degree, with or without the easement. The only arguable effect of requiring property owners to grant such an easement as a requirement of land use approval is to make it more difficult for property owners to advance an inverse condemnation or other legal action against the Port, based on trespass or the externalized impacts of the airport operations on surrounding uses. We think it highly doubtful that taking private property for that purpose constitutes a legitimate government objective."[9]

For this reason and others, the Land Use Board of Appeals found this zoning to be in violation of both the U.S. and State of Oregon constitutions and ultimately issued a complete reversal of the airport zoning ordinance.

Hillsboro City Code 6.24.010 addresses "Unnecessary Noise." According to the code, "It is unlawful for any person to make, assist in making, allow or perpetuate the continuance of any unauthorized, disturbing or unnecessary noise." Certainly aircraft noise, particularly flight training activity, is disturbing to many residents. Yet the city fails to address this legitimate community concern based on their misleading federal preemption argument. Please refer to the previous Washington County Commissioners section for information on preemption.

Hillsboro City Code Section 6.24.030 which addresses noise limits reads as follows:

Unless authorized by the manager, it is unlawful for any person to produce or allow to be produced, with or from a sound-producing source, sound that exceeds:

1. 50 decibels A-weighting (dBA) at any time between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following day, or
2. 60 dBA at any time between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.; or
B. Is plainly audible at any time between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following day:
  1.Within a noise-sensitive building which is not the source of sound, or
  2. On a public right-of-way from a distance of at least 100 feet from the source of the sound.

Oregon Aviation Watch believes these same limitations should apply to aircraft.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

  • Log complaints at 503-615-3200 or 800-847-3806.
  • The mailing address for the FAA Flight Standards Office is 3180 NW 229th Ave., Hillsboro, OR 97124.
  • The email address for the FAA Noise Ombudsman is 9-AWA-NoiseOmbudsman@faa.gov.

Washington County Counsel Alan Rappleyea stated that the county refers aircraft noise complaints to the FAA at the address and phone numbers listed above.[10] However, during a 7/2/15 phone conversation, a spokesperson for the FAA Flight Standards stated "We don't regulate noise. Typically that is a county matter. This office does not handle noise complaints." He also suggested contacting the air traffic control tower at the Hillsboro Airport to determine what role it might play in managing noise.

In response to a query about the air traffic control tower's role in addressing noise complaints, the Port of Portland Community Affairs Tour and Outreach manager, Brooke Berglund stated, "Although they may field some calls, they typically refer callers to the Port Noise Line and FSDO [Flight Standards District Office] depending on the situation." [11]

But as noted above, the Port Noise Office contends that aircraft noise is federally preempted. Its sole role in regards to Hillsboro Airport noise intrusions is to log complaints. It does nothing to mitigate the noise nor does it express any intention of doing so.

Portland Community College (PCC)

  • Log complaints with the current interim PCC President, Sylvia Kelley at 971-722-4335. Her email address is Sylvia.kelley@pcc.edu.
  • Log complaints with the President of PCC Rock Creek, Sandra Fowler Hill at 971-722-6232 or via email at Sandra.fowlerhill@pcc.edu.

PCC's Rock Creek taxpayer-funded Aviation Science program encourages flight training. Many of the student pilots are required to complete 270 hours of fixed wing or helicopter flight hours which translates into at least 11 days of noise per pilot. PCC student pilots contract with the Hillsboro Aero Academy formerly Hillsboro Aviation for the flight training portion of their coursework. Much of the training requires repetitive "touch and go" maneuvers below 2000 feet within 4 to 5 miles of the airport. Additional practice hours are accrued by flying over surrounding rural and woodland properties with a low ambient noise level. Needless to say this leads to an enormous amount of noise and pollution. Calls to PCC to discuss these negative impacts prompted the following response from then Rock Creek Interim Campus President, Birgitte Ryslinge:

"PCC has no independent 'regulatory authority' in either aviation fuels or noise. Therefore your concerns would be more appropriately directed to those agencies that do have that authority. In the case of aviation fuels, that likely would be the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the case of your concern about noise, we suggest that be initially addressed with the City of Hillsboro. There may also be State and Federal regulations regarding noise from aviation activities."[12]

She then went on to proclaim PCC Rock Creek's commitment to providing workforce training. "We are called upon to respond to the employment needs of our communities, region and state."[13] What she doesn't mention is that public dollars are subsidizing workforce flight training on behalf of foreign students. Nor does she express any concern about the negative impact PCC's flight training programs are having on the community.

The current PCC Rock Creek Campus President, Sandra Fowler-Hill also maintains that,

"PCC has no independent 'regulatory authority' in either aviation fuels or noise. Your concerns should be directed to those agencies that may have that authority, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality."[14]

A 6/4/13 Portland Tribune article reported that, "Hillsboro Aviation's [now Hillsboro Aero Academy's] Troutdale facility was opened at the urging of the Portland Community College to help grow their aviation flight program...Each flight school offers two- and four-year college degree programs through Portland Community College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, respectively." [15] Clearly PCC is playing an aggressive role in using public educational dollars on behalf of the for-profit aviation sector. It is also worth noting that in recent years PCC tried to foist its aviation business agenda on Columbia County by establishing a branch adjacent to the Scappoose Airpark but was thwarted by residents who initiated a LUBA challenge. [15]

The Tribune article referenced above explained that much of the PCC flight training at the Troutdale Airport involves Chinese students. Given China's history, it is reasonable to surmise that many of these students, upon returning to their native country, will join the military or police force, thereby using their skills to suppress democracy and free speech in China and to continue the brutal genocidal assault perpetrated by their government against the Tibetan people. That PCC is investing public money earmarked for education to promote the Chinese authoritarian agenda is morally repugnant. Why should American taxpayers forfeit their quality of life and foot the bill for workforce development on behalf of foreign pilots?

This entire arrangement deserves open debate and dialogue, not closed door deals between government agencies and educational institutions that use public funding to promote private business schemes while exhibiting a complete disdain for democracy both here and abroad. PCC receives tax dollars approved by the state legislature as well as county property taxes. In addition to publicly funded infrastructure, federal resources pay to manage and maintain the air traffic control towers and staff at both the Hillsboro and Troutdale airports.

Sadly, PCC's mission does not include being responsive to the quality of life and environmental concerns of community residents whose livability is degraded by the flight training program. Indeed, it increasingly appears that PCC's aviation program is more of a private business than an educational facility deserving of public support.

Port of Portland Noise Office

Part of the mission of the Port of Portland is to promote aviation activity. This is done at the expense of the environment and the rights of others to the enjoyment of their property. The Port is essentially a corporate entity that profits from the aviation industries, public education institutions, and users that are responsible for creating and exacerbating the noise problem. As such it has a vested interest in ignoring and marginalizing those who file complaints about noise. In fact, the Port is intent on accessing public money to promote and subsidize the private for-profit aviation businesses that lease their facilities. As such its role in monitoring and mitigating noise poses a major conflict of interest.

Due to these inherent conflicts, the Port is not a reliable source of information on the widespread and worsening issue of aviation noise. In any case, the Port has a well documented history of completely failing to abate aviation noise associated with the Hillsboro Airport (HIO).

As noted earlier, the Port Noise Office routinely disavows all responsibility for mitigating noise at the Hillsboro Airport. Its primary purpose is to log complaints while pretending to run a credible, functioning noise abatement program.

Summary

Who knew that filing a noise complaint and seeking remediation for the frequent aviation noise intrusions in Washington County would be this complicated?

The following is the current noise reporting process encountered by area residents.

  • The Port of Portland Noise Management Office insists that the FAA is responsible for noise but maintains that the regulation of airport noise is preempted by federal law. Noise Office staff claim that this office is not empowered to address Hillsboro Airport noise concerns. All it does is log complaints.
  • The FAA denies responsibility for noise complaints and suggests contacting the Port Noise Management Office.
  • Washington County maintains that DEQ is responsible for noise complaints and also suggests contacting the Hillsboro FAA Flight Standards office. However, the Flight Standards office insists that it is not responsible for noise.
  • DEQ, while acknowledging that there are existing laws in place, says that it doesn't enforce them because the legislature defunded the noise program in 1991. DEQ further claims that cities, counties and other municipalities are charged with the task of addressing aviation noise, yet both the City of Hillsboro and Washington County deny all responsibility.
  • According to City of Hillsboro noise code #6.24.050 (D.)[17], sounds regulated by federal law including sounds caused by aircraft are exempt from city noise code enforcement. As noted earlier, this is misleading. Since flight training does not fall within the interstate commerce transportation clause, the city can enforce their noise code requirements but have chosen not to. This short sighted decision does not necessarily absolve them of legal responsibility in this regard.
  • PCC, without citizen input, established an aviation sciences program that involves subjecting area residents to enormous amounts of noise and pollution, but like the rest of their counterparts in this exploitative ruse, denies all responsibility for addressing the livability and environmental concerns of impacted communities. Even more insidiously, PCC is using public money earmarked for education to promote these private business schemes. A significant portion of the training is designed to provide workforce training on behalf the authoritarian regime of the People's Republic of China and other foreign nations.

This convoluted mess of a bureaucratic system seems intentionally designed to obfuscate and minimize community concerns. While area residents become increasingly frustrated trying to maneuver their way through this maze of dead ends, Oregon's local, state and federal elected representatives have completely abdicated responsibility to address the valid interests of the greater good. This is unacceptable!

Oregon Aviation Watch strongly urges impacted residents to file noise complaints with all the above mentioned agencies, educational institutions, and government representatives.

Freedom from air traffic noise, as well as peace and quiet in our homes, neighborhoods, and recreational areas should be recognized as an inherent right, not a privilege. Government supported, corporate run aviation businesses whose rapacious appetite for accruing profits while degrading the livability and quality of life of others should not be allowed to usurp these rights.

Sources

[1] How to Make an Environmental Complaint at DEQ. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Available on-line at http://www.deq.state.or.us/complaints/dcomplaint.aspx.

[2] Noise Control Regulations. Division 35. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Available on-line at http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/rules/oars_300/oar_340/340_035.html.

[3] Saito-Moore, Jacquilyn (Office of Washington County Counsel) and Noren, David (Attorney for Intervenor Respondent). Oregon Aviation Watch and Washington County Citizen Action Network v. Washington County and Robert D. Jossy. LUBA No. 2013-111. (2/20/14).

[4] How to Make an Environmental Complaint at DEQ. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Available on-line at http://www.deq.state.or.us/complaints/dcomplaint.aspx.

[5] Letter from Washington County Counsel, Alan Rappleyea, to Miki Barnes Re: Hillsboro Airport Noise Issues. (9/15/14).

[6] Hillsboro Airport Opens New Parallel Runway. Port of Portland. (4/30/15). Available on-line at http://www.portofportland.com/Selfpost/A_2015430143411AHIORnwyOpnNR20.pdf.

[7] Ibid.

[8] LUBA No. 2010-011 Final Opinion and Order. Barnes, Michelle v. the City of Hillsboro and the Port of Portland.. Pg. 3. Available on-line at http://www.oregonaviationwatch.org/docs/LUBA_decision_10011.pdf.

[9] Ibid. Pg. 15-16.

[10] Letter from Washington County Counsel, Alan Rappleyea, to Miki Barnes Re: Hillsboro Airport Noise Issues. (9/15/14).

[11] Email response from Brooke Berglund to Miki Barnes. (8/4/15).

[12] Letter from PCC Rock Creek Interim Campus President, Bridgette Ryslinge, to Miki Barnes. (9/26/13).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Letter from PCC Rock Creek Campus President, Sandra Fowler-Hill, to Miki Barnes. (8/7/14).

[15] Hachman, Cari, Troutdale Flight School is International Cockpit for Pilots. Portland Tribune. (6/4/13). Available on-line at http://portlandtribune.com/go/44-features/153866-troutdale-flight-school-is-international-cockpit-for-pilots.

[16] Vaughn, Courtney. Lingering UGB Decision in Scappoose Stifles Growth Plans. Portland Tribune. (7/25/14). Available on-line at http://pamplinmedia.com/scs/83-news/228279-91302-lingering-ugb-decision-in-scappoose-stifles-growth-plans. (7/25/14).

[17] Hillsboro, Oregon County Code. Chapter 6: Health and Welfare. Subchapter 6.24 Noise. Available on-line at http://www.qcode.us/codes/hillsboro/.

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