The Port of Hood River is working on a plan to address noise complaints surrounding increased activity at the Ken Jernstedt Airfield, but still has details to work out regarding public engagement, data-gathering, and enforcement.

“The airport noise issue is a process. This is something that we’ve been addressing since 2017,” said Anne Medenbach, referencing the introduction of the Fly Friendly Program: A voluntary set of guidelines that encourages visiting and resident pilots to adhere to a set of guidelines designed to minimize noise impacts.

The program was designed to be re-evaluated and adjusted annually and, with the program now in its second year, the port is planning to re-survey both the public and airport users about how they think the airport should be used. That survey is in development and the port plans to release it later this year, along with a campaign focused on highlighting members of the local aviation community and upcoming opportunities at the airport.

“Surveying the local community and the industry I think is a big part of this too: How should our airport be used? From non-pilots and pilots — how is the airport important to you? What should the airport be used for?”

Residents such as Chris Robuck, who presented public comment at the port’s Jan. 14 meeting, have expressed concerns over the port’s handling of noise complaints, and a lack of interest in involving local residents in finding solutions to the noise problem. “I’m just really frustrated about how a public agency … can work so concertedly against the public,” she said.

Robuck specifically referenced the campaign planned for this summer, and said “it feels like a concerted effort to use government money and power to convince the public that the airport is a wonderous thing while ignoring all the consequences.”

Airport noise is a primary concern within the Hood River community, with Thrive Hood River reporting that 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, and the port reporting a spike in noise complaints over the last few years as airport usage has increased, and some companies changed their operations.

Most of the complaints center around circulation noise, or “consistent circular noise that doesn’t stop that is pattern work or something that is circulating that is constant,” Medenbach said. Those complaints largely come from areas over a mile away from the airport, she said, and fall within one of two patterns that airport users often fly.

While the Fly Friendly Program encourages pilots to vary their patterns, many don’t, and the port currently doesn’t have a method of enforcement. 

Possible solutions such as requiring aircrafts to use mufflers or limiting the types of aircraft allowed at the airport teeter closely towards limiting what kind of operations pilots are allowed to use the airport for, and put the airport into dangerous legal territory. “We can’t restrict their (pilots’) use. Legally, we can’t do that. It’s not our jurisdiction.”

That jurisdiction falls to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which also has jurisdiction over planes’ operations in the air.

Commissioner Hoby Streich suggested placing regulations in the form of a Terms and Conditions clause in users’ lease agreements, and Medenbach agreed that that could potentially work as a solution; but in order to craft specific regulations that effectively address the noise issues, the port needs to know what operations are causing the problem.

“We don’t know what kind of operations we’re having, or what kind. Right now, we can’t track those,” Medenbach said.

The airport is certified as a General Aviation (GA) airport, defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a public-use airport that do not have scheduled service, and, like most GA airports, it doesn’t have a control-tower.

“We don’t have a tower, (so) there’s no single way to track your operations,” Medenbach said. There are ways to track operations without a tower, and Medenbach said that she is working with airport tenants for ways to gather the data first-person (the pilot reports their operations) and third-person (the airport tracks pilots’ operations). “It (the method of tracking) depends on what operations you want tracked and what kind of data you want.”

Data-collection will most likely have to wait until airport activity picks up again in the summer. Noise typically starts to become an issue for residents around April, Robuck said, adding that April would be an ideal time to put out a survey because people will be more attuned to the airport noise issue than they would be now, when the airport is relatively quiet.

While Medenbach said that the port does intend to put out an airport-specific survey in the spring or summer, the port will be including the airport as a topic of discussion in its Strategic Business Plan Update, which began in October.

A public survey regarding the port’s Strategic Business Plan update is live through February at bit.ly/porthoodriver. A public meeting will be held Feb. 20, from 6-8 p.m., at 1000 E. Port Marina Drive in Hood River.

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