A jet arrives at the Aurora State Airport in 2019. (Jaime Valdez/Pamplin Media Group)

A proposed expansion of the Aurora State Airport could generate millions of dollars in local economic activity while making room for fire suppression and emergency service aircrafts. 

But the city of Aurora and a local conservation group are concerned about the expansion’s impact on local infrastructure and are calling for significant changes before it moves forward.  

The Aurora State Airport is the third busiest airport in the state and serves business jets and training. A forecast by the Oregon Aviation Department expects the airport’s aircraft hours to increase by an average of nearly 2.5% annually through 2030. 

Earlier this month, the Marion County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to change the zoning of a 16-acre parcel of land from agriculture to public use. Three sides of the land are bordered by the airport and its facilities and Airport Road N.E. runs along its eastern edge. The change clear the way for expanding the adjacent airport

The land is held by an Aurora-based company called TLM Holdings, LLC. Its application for the zone change states that the land will be used for additional hangar space and other facilities that are needed to accommodate the growing airport. The new hangars will create room for 37 new aircrafts and generate $15 million in wages, according to a presentation by the company’s lawyers.

“These airport jobs are good jobs,” said Colm Willis, chair of the Marion County Board of Commissioners. “They can support a family.”

Dylan Frederick — spokesman for Friends of Aurora Airport, a group of businesses that promote the airport — said the expansion will also be helpful to companies that rely on the airport to provide emergency services. He pointed to Columbia Helicopters, which provides fire suppression, as well as Life Flight Network, as companies that would benefit from the expansion. 

But Ben Williams, the board president of local conservation group Friends of French Prairie, said that his group is concerned that the expansion of the airport will overwhelm the local transportation system, causing traffic to spill onto Interstate 5 and disrupt farm operations.

Joseph Schaefer, chair of the city of Aurora’s Planning Commission, said that the airport, which is outside of city limits, has been classified as an urban use and should be annexed into the city before the expansion can take place.

“The city’s position is it’s an urban use that needs urban infrastructure and should be in the city,” he said.  

Specifically, he said that the airport should be connected to a public sewer system instead of the septic system it’s currently attached to.

Last week, the Aurora City Council indicated that it would appeal the airport expansion to the Land Use Board of Appeals, a statewide panel that adjudicates land-use disputes.  

While the zone change is approved, a list of uses for the land needs to be approved along with a conditional use permit. The conditional use permit will specify what  TLM Holdings, LLC will need to do to mitigate its impact on local infrastructure.

Williams said that his group will be looking closely at what’s required of the company in its conditional use permit when it comes before the county commission. 

“If it’s going to happen, we’ll accept the inevitable but do it the right way,” he said.

The county’s hearings officer recommended approving the zoning change but called attention to issues that need to be resolved before the expansion can take place.

The recommendation by the county’s hearings officer states that the expansion could generate 1,300 new trips per day. While the company will pay its proportionate share of transportation infrastructure upgrades, which are calculated at  $475,409, the recommendation further states there are still transportation issues that have not been settled. The recommendation noted the expansion’s possible interruptions to traffic patterns and safety.

Willis said that the county commission is concerned about traffic improvements in north Marion County and will evaluate how the company intends to minimize its impact through its conditional use permit.

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