The Hood River County Commission met with the company of a standing-room-only audience Monday evening for a scheduled public hearing on the Port of Hood River's Orchard Road vacation project.
"Gosh, it's normally just us in here; there must be something going on," commission chair Ron Rivers joked at the beginning of the hearing.
About two hours later, at the end of the hearing, Rivers voted for a continuation of the hearing until the next meeting, pushing back a decision on the fate of Orchard Road until at least September. "I'd feel amiss if we went ahead without exploring some of these issues," he noted.
Prior to public testimony, representative from County Public Works, Port of Hood River and the engineering firm contracted by the port presented information regarding the project, which would permanently close a section of Orchard Road and make two dead-ends in order to shift the Ken Jernstedt Airfield's runway about 500 feet east. The runway shift project was approved by the commission in 2009, but the vacation of Orchard Road requires a separate public process.
"Until tonight we've only received written comments from four individuals in favor of the project, and four others in favor but with certain conditions," said Don Wiley of Public Works. "This vacation is going to be a big change for the area. I encourage people here tonight to speak up."
Wiley noted that, of the comments he received, it appears safety issues alleviated by shifting the runway east - moving both Orchard and Tucker roads out of the runway protection zone - outweigh inconvenience issues caused by cutting off the section of Orchard Road and eliminating through traffic.
Wiley said his department would support the road vacation if a series of conditions were met. Included in those conditions were limited farm access through the east end of the runway and a good-faith effort by the port to explore solutions to issues caused by the inability of farm trucks to negotiate the improper angle and grade at the intersection of Orchard and Tucker roads (known as Nobi's Corner).
Port of Hood River representative Mike Doke said that although specific solutions have not been drawn up, the FAA said it was willing to work with the port on creating some sort of gated farm access to allow orchardists to reach properties on both sides of the new runway protection zone. He also noted that if the county approved the project with the condition of solving the Nobi's Corner issue, the port would work in good faith with other agencies to come up with a solution.
Of the 11 people who gave public testimony, the majority resides on Orchard Road and spoke in favor of the vacation project. Safety, they noted, was worth the extra few minutes of drive time the dead end would require.
Even those who spoke against the project were in favor of the runway shift and airport safety. Their objections were against permanently cutting off an alternate route around an increasingly busy stretch of road. If approved as it is, the plan would eliminate all through traffic - including pedestrian and bicycles - to Orchard Road, rerouting in onto Tucker Road and Windmaster Corner.
Think outside of the box and explore all options before choosing to cut off the road, some residents urged.
The public hearing will be continued at 6 p.m., Sept. 19 in the County Commission conference room (601 State Street).