County Commission gives conditional approval to Orchard Road vacation

September 21, 2011

A plan to vacate Orchard Road to allow a shifting of the runway at Hood River airport was given a provisional go-ahead by the Hood River County Commission Tuesday night if numerous conditions are met.

The County Commission voted unanimously to approve the project dependent on the Port of Hood River and the Federal Aviation Administration meeting the conditions.

Those conditions, which Commission Chairman Ron Rivers said were subject to revision before coming back to the commission for final approval, include:

Right of way for hammerhead turnarounds, with survey work being the responsibility of the port.

Construction of the paved turnarounds will be the responsibility of the port. Prior to construction, the improvement plans must be approved by county public works.

All utilities in the right of way shall be relocated and new easements granted. The work will be completed at the port's expense unless utilities agree otherwise.

The port will provide a study of intersection sight distances and provide recommendations for sight distance improvements.

The port will provide a permanent access route near the east end of the airport to support agriculture activities. The terms and conditions of the road must be approved by the county commission prior to the closure of Orchard Road.

The port will enter a Memorandum of Agreement with the county to help remedy road design deficiencies at the intersection of Orchard Road and Highway 281. The MOA must be approved before the closure of Orchard Road.

Orchard Road will remain open to the public until the port has secured funding for the runway relocation and the previous conditions have been met.

Ownership of vacated property will vest with the Port of Hood River.

Shoulder improvements must be made to Tucker Road to support increased bike and pedestrian traffic.

The conditional approval was granted following final testimony from the port regarding project alternatives.

The meeting had been continued from August to allow the port to approach the FAA about a proposal to keep the road open and turn it into a tunnel that would keep it under the runway protections zone at the airport.

However, Mike Doke of the Port of Hood River told the county commission that such a project would cost at least $8 million, while the current runway shifting plan cost about $2 million.

"I think that answers our financial questions," Rivers said.

The question was raised by several members of the commission of what would happen if the board elected not to approve the project in its current form. Doke was blunt.

"The FAA would pull back its funding and the project would stop," Doke said. "If this road vacation doesn't occur, the project dies."

One of the primary sticking points between the county, port and FAA was access to agricultural areas near the airport. The port forwarded a proposal to the FAA for a public access path or road on the east side of the airport property. However, the FAA objected to the plan, saying it would cross over the runway protection zone and that airport owners must keep the RPZ of "incompatible activities" including those with public access that could lead to an assembly of people.

However, the county's objections were largely mollified with the addition of the access road for agricultural use.

Prior to opening up the meeting for public discussion, Rivers said he was limiting comments to those around the tunnel proposal.

The only comments from the crowd on the matter pertained to bicycle access in the tunnel and who would be paying for the tunnel.

However, the tunnel plan died a quick death when it was presented that it would cost at least four times the amount of the current project.

"I want you all in the audience to know I have two issues: Public safety is the biggest with me on this particular issue and I balance that with the county's desire to have inter-connectivity," Rivers said before the vote. "But in this situation I don't see both those things happening. It can't happen because of the restrictions the FAA has placed on us."

Before voting the commission launched into a lengthy discussion with county legal counsel over the wording of the conditions and the practicality of them. Eventually the wording on the agreement was changed from a memorandum of understanding between the county and port to a more specific memorandum of agreement.

The final condition of shoulder improvements was also added during discussion.

The list of conditions for approval passed unanimously and will be brought back to the commission, likely at its next meeting, for final approval.

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