Snake oil as a biofuel
If there's one thing that isn't "green" and "sustainable," it's a big-city airport. Let's face it, air travel by its very nature is quite unfriendly to the environment. Worried about your carbon footprint? Just look at what's blowing out the back of those engines as you recline your seat in the modern airborne sardine can.
The places where the jets take off and land are not friendly to their living neighbors, either. The planes and their maintenance facilities make lots of noise. Any native wildlife nearby is actively shooed away, or hunted down in some cases, because its presence on or above the runways is extremely dangerous to human life. When the weather gets frosty, the airports use copious amounts of nasty de-icer to keep ice from accumulating on the aircraft that are about to depart. All those chemicals have to go somewhere, and they're certainly not all recycled. A lot of that solution finds its way into nearby waterways. And if the local vegetation gets high enough to interfere with takeoff and landing patterns, then down it comes, for safety reasons.
So o.k., the airport is not the best thing for the environment. But we're not going to stop flying any time soon, and so we live with it. We may try to contain it the damage that it does, but "green" and "sustainable" an airport is not.
But wait. This is Portland, where you just shout out "sustainable," and all the kids cheer so loudly that they miss the next three sentences you say to them. Around here, it pays for any business, even an airport, to start singing its own green praises. For with that spiel come some valuable free passes.
And so it was the other day when the Port of Portland announced the chair of some sort of new planning committee that's supposed to reach out and touch the residents of the metropolitan area to find out what we want for the airport, and give us what we want. Yeah, right.
The new chair is legendary winemaker Bill Blosser -- also a former vice president of the big corporate engineering and planning firm CH2M Hill -- and the press release telling of his appointment just couldn't resist throwing around the old "sustainable":
City of Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Port of Portland Commission President Jay Waldron announce the appointment of Bill Blosser as chair of the Airport Futures planning advisory group.Blosser's well known as an environmentalist, but he's a perennial face card on numerous boards populated by the old boys in the Kulongoski (formerly Goldschmidt) network. It's hard to tell just from a little internet sleuthing how independent he'll be from the powers that be at the Port. But from past experience with planning advisory committees in these parts, I suspect not very.
Airport Futures is a collaborative effort between the City and Port, and the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan community to create an integrated long-range development plan for Portland International Airport.
Bill Blosser will chair the joint City and Port planning advisory group comprised of community, government, and business interests beginning in June 2007 and concluding in spring 2010....
“We are pleased to partner with the City and the Portland-Vancouver community on this collaborative planning effort. Our goal is to incorporate principles of sustainability as we plan for the future of this regional transportation asset. We also believe the upcoming public process will provide the community with a greater voice in airport planning," Port Commission President Waldron said. "Bill's leadership and experience with sustainability issues will be a tremendous asset in this process."
As chair of the Airport Futures planning advisory group, Blosser will help support an open, balanced and fair discussion of key issues associated with PDX. The outcome of this process will be an update to the Port's 2000 Master Plan which will help guide airport development over the next 30 years. A City land use plan for PDX and environs will also be developed that will replace the current conditional use process with a land use designation that recognizes the airport as an allowed use. The new land use structure for PDX is intended to provide the Port with the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances in airport development; allow the City to conduct a legislative land use process that examines the increasingly complex issues associated with PDX; and provide the community with greater opportunity to influence airport planning and development....
Airport Futures is a collaborative effort between the City of Portland, Port of Portland, and the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan community to create an integrated long-range development plan for Portland International Airport (PDX). Beginning in spring 2007 and concluding in spring 2010, the Port will update the airport master plan and the City will create a land use plan recognizing PDX's role in the regional economy while managing City infrastructure and livability. The three-year process will reinforce Portland's planning legacy and PDX's reputation as one of the premier airports in the country, and incorporate principles of sustainability and livability. The City and Port are committed to planning for future cargo and passenger aviation needs of the region while using reasonable efforts to avoid, reduce, or mitigate potential impacts to the community.
Behind the curtain of planning-speak in the press release, the Port seems hell-bent on expanding the airport, big time, whether you and I like it or not. It wants to take over what's now the Colwood golf course (it's for sale) and blow another huge runway to the south of the existing airport operation. It's no secret. There'll be all kinds of air traffic added to the south of the airport, with a lot of it no doubt coming in and going out over existing Portland neighborhoods who don't have airport noise now.
The questions are, Will the city let them get away with that? And will there be enough opposition by affected residents to stop them?
On the first point -- changes to the land use designations at the city level -- I'll bet the skids are already well greased. I noticed something interesting in the Trib the other day: Those spiffy new city reports that show lobbying time? They reveal that the Port is one of the biggest lobbying forces at City Hall. This joint "planning advisory" board is a sure sign that the two governmental bodies are in this together. With these guys, by the time the citizens' advisory group is formed, the fix is usually already in.
That leaves massive public outrage as the only way to stop the new runway. Not just NIMBY outrage from the people whose peace and quiet are about to be ruined permanently -- it has to be outrage from a broad cross-section of the city commissioners' constituents.
Well, where are the "green" people? Do they think Portland should increase its airport capacity by 50 percent? Run off more wildlife? Spew more carbon into the airshed? Give up on the nascent improvements being made to water quality in the Columbia Slough? What about energy self-sufficiency? That ain't canola oil they're burning in those jets.
It will be so interesting to see if our city fathers care a bag of beans for any of the environmental consequences of the airport expansion. So far, no one's pushed them on it, and the folks at the Port could care less. But if you live due south of that airport, you had better start pushing soon, or the only thing that's going to be "sustainable" for you is jet noise.
We're all supposed to change our ways to make this a better planet, blah blah blah. How about Portland sets an example for the world by living with the airport we have, which if properly managed is perfectly capable of meeting our needs for many decades to come? Hey, Fireman Randy, you're the earth father, whaddya think?