Those arriving at the Salem Municipal Airport will now be greeted by an American flag in a more prominent location, after a five-year effort by local residents and businesses.
A group of over 50, including pilots and veterans, gathered to watch it fly for the first time the morning of Thursday, Jan. 19, at a flag dedication ceremony that included remarks from Mayor Chris Hoy.
The ceremony came just over a week after the Salem City Council approved $2.4 million in general funds for airport improvements to lure commercial air service back to the capital city.
The flagpole itself, though, was funded by donors, according to organizers.
James Wallace helped lead the initiative, as part of the informal Salem Airport Users group. The group began discussing an additional flag pole around five years ago.
“They got together and said ‘We don’t have a flag that people can see that come into this airport.’ This is a pretty popular used area right here, not the main terminal, but this one’s used quite a bit,” Wallace said.
The new flagpole sits near the Flight Deck Restaurant and Lounge, where the next closest American flag is a red-white-and-blue blur in the distance.
Wallace found Mike Kreitzberg, owner of Steelhead Metal and Fab, who donated the pole to honor his father.
Freedom Precast donated the concrete and RPD Truck Services sent employees to install the pole. Wallace said donors contributed to cover other costs such as excavation.
The total donations totalled $1,500, according to Ron Peters, manager of Salem Aviation Fueling, who organized the ceremony.
“They all chipped in on it. I mean, wow, it’s unbelievable. The groundswell of enthusiasm to have this flag put up… it really astounded me,” Wallace said. “I’m just very pleased.”
The project was delayed for several years by the pandemic which put a hold on the group’s meetings.
“It took me longer to put the flagpole up than it did to build my airplane, and that’s the truth,” said Wallace, who flies an RV-9A.
The flagpole dedication came as the city prepares to renovate the terminal for commercial passengers.
Hoy told those gathered that the flag is a reminder of the sacrifice of service members, and the debt owed to them.
Hoy also mentioned the airport tour he took with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden on Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of attention, a lot of new things happening out here at the airport. It’s really exciting,” he said during his speech.
Airport improvements are scheduled to be completed by mid-May, with commercial flights predicted to be approved by the federal authorities by late August.
During the city council meeting Jan. 9, the majority of those commenting opposed the new airport spending.
Brent DeHart, president of Salem Aviation Fueling and chair of the Fly Salem Steering Committee, said in an interview at the ceremony that he understands the funding was a tough choice for councilors.
“Hopefully, the funds invested will come back. All the things that the city needs to spend money on from the general fund, be it streets and sidewalks, public safety or homeless, and libraries, they’re all community desires and needs, but this is the only one that has the potential to return the money to the community,” DeHart said.
“I think it’s a misperception that they’re actually going to spend $2.3 (million) just to launch service,” he said.
Beyond the $1.9 million estimated for construction he believes there will be ways to minimize costs when it comes to hiring additional airport staff.
Hoy said the $2.3 million is a maximum. The planned renovations are considered the minimum required to bring the airport up to federal standards.
“There’s still some variables, but we had to plan for the worst case. And if we don’t spend it all, we’ll reallocate that money for something else,” Hoy said.
The vote to approve the funding came as councilors face future budget challenges with general funds reserves projected to run out by 2028.
“We’re working hard to get the (commercial) air service started,” the mayor said. “Those things don’t always wait for a budget cycle. And so, we had to act. We understand the implications to the budget, the long-term implications, but the council obviously felt it’s a priority.”
He said using city money to boost commercial passenger aviation won’t “break our budget.”
Hoy said the investment would result in more travel to the region and other economic development opportunities.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to do that, I want to take advantage of it. When at the end of the day it all makes sense, and this does for me,” he said.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.