Planned infrastructure improvements at the Ken Jernstedt Airfield have surrounding residents concerned that ongoing noise problems are just going to get worse.
The Port of Hood River, which owns and manages the airport property, is getting ready to bid the Connect VI project, which would improve infrastructure at the airport so that it can be used as an emergency response center. As part of that project, the port would build an additional hangar and add a jet fuel station onto the existing fuel stations offered at the airport.
“We are concerned that adding jet fuel will create a ‘build it and they will come’ situation,” said Peter Cornelison, reading a letter by Thrive Hood River Executive Director Heather Staten during the public comment section of the port commission’s Nov. 5 meeting.
Airport noise concerns are the top reason that residents reach out to Thrive (formerly the Hood River Resident’s Committee) that isn’t part of a formal land use proceeding, Staten said in her letter — adding that most who do complain are long-time residents who live a mile or more away from the airport, “but have had their lives made miserable by increased and louder plane traffic.”
The Port of Hood River has had a spike in noise complaints over the last few years as airport usage has increased, and some companies changed their operations.
In response, the port implemented the Fly Friendly program, which encourages visiting and resident pilots to adhere to a set of guidelines designed to minimize noise impacts.
“I think that was a good idea, I don’t think it works,” said resident Todd Guenther at the Nov. 5 meeting. “There’s no way to really enforce it or implement it.”
Outgoing Airport Advisory Committee (AAC) Chair Dayle Harris said that he sympathized with those affected by the increased airport noise; but emphasized that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t get involved in noise problems and there’s little that can be done locally in terms of regulation. “There are probably 90 percent of pilots at this airport who are doing it right. There’s probably 10 percent that refuse to do it right. And there ain’t nothing that we can do to them,” he said.
Anne Medenbach, development and property manager for the Port of Hood River, announced in late October that the port would be initiating another public outreach campaign to gather data that will hopefully help them mitigate noise concerns.
“I assume those are all in good faith and that you’re serious about those,” said resident Chris Robuck. “Connect VI makes those decisions already. It makes them by default.”
Harris, who worked 43 years as a commercial pilot, said that he doubted the addition of jet fuel will increase airport traffic because the runway itself is too small to attract large jets, and the high winds and rough terrain surrounding the airport make it an unappealing place to land. Primarily, he said, the fuel would be used by firefighting helicopters and other emergency aircraft.
The port commission decided to go ahead and put the Connect VI project up for bid, though opted to postpone renewing a contract with an engineering firm until the port received bids back and decided with certainty whether or not to continue the project.
“We don’t, as a commission, respond to testimony during this meeting but rest assured that we do hear it, we do deliberate, said Port Commission President John Everitt. “It’s a difficult question, and I’m glad that everybody had a chance to hear Dayle (Harris) because many of these decisions are not in our hands, but we understand it’s an ongoing problem and we’re working on it.”