A jet arrives at the Aurora State Airport. (Jaime Valdez/Pamplin Media Group).

A proposed expansion of the Aurora State Airport violates the state’s land-use law, imperils prime farmland and wasn’t properly approved, two conservation groups argue in a lawsuit.

1,000 Friends of Oregon and Friends of French Prairie have sued the Oregon Aviation Department and the Oregon Aviation Board, asking a judge to invalidate plans to extend the runway at Aurora State Airport by 1,000 feet.

The Aurora airport is on 144 acres near the borders of Marion and Clackamas counties and is used for pilot training and business jets.

The airport has been busier in recent years. According to numbers on the department’s website, there were 50,881 arrivals, departures and other aircraft operations in 2016. In 2018, that number rose to 70,717.

Betty Stansbury, the department director, said that the proposed extension has been planned for 20 years. She said aircraft using the airport are limited to fewer passengers and less fuel or cargo because of the length of the current runway doesn’t support more weight.

“It’s really a safety issue for us,” she said.

Stansbury said that there are no plans for the airport to accommodate commercial airlines. She said that the extension is years away as the department completes a process that includes an environmental assessment and public input.

The airport’s master plan states that some businesses have complained that less fuel in airplanes means more refueling stops. The report also notes that some businesses favor the runway extension and would see increased revneue if more fuel could be sold and more types of airrafts could use the airport. However, neighbors are concerned that the extension “would unduly disrupt the area and their quality of life, and encourage more and louder aircraft,” according to the report.

Neither conservation group responded to requests for comment.

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 30 in Marion County Circuit Court, argues that the expanded airport would extend the runway on to land zoned exclusively for farming. The lawsuit also states that the Oregon Aviation Board didn’t approve the airport’s master plan and has given shifting explanations over the plan’s status.

The lawsuit follows a similar appeal the groups brought to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, a state panel that reviews land-use decisions. The appeal relied on a letter from Stansbury concerning the master plan. The board dismissed the appeal on grounds that the director’s letter wasn’t a land-use decision.

Martha Meeker, the aviation board’s chair, declined to comment, citing the litigation.

Stansbury said that the department owns the land for the proposed runway extension. She said that it would have to acquire some additional land for a required buffer near the runway, which she said will remain in agricultural production.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.