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Thursday, April 26, 2007

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.

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.

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.

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?

Comments (34)

Colwood Golf Course has more going for it than just the Airport-ask the Cully Neighborhood Association,

Didn't I read somewhere that the Colwood folks didn't want to sell? And if they do, how is it that the Port would displace the two or three industrial parks between that location and the airport? I happen to know that there are some decent size businesses in those locations. (I'm a mailman and I do that route from time to time.) Is this a practicality that Great and Wonderful Oz will address in his plan? Is Portland willing to mess with thriving smaller businesses, or more important to me, a plum assignment which keeps me dry while I work?

Oops, should have looked at the map before I posted. OK, so they have the property close to the rim of the airport, is it really necessary? Will the supposed increase in potential runway space really be needed? Why is it the Great and Powerful Oz is willing to pave over open space here, but can't be coerced into installing any new space to drive my car unless it is a couplet?

This sort of thing is typical of government-style thinking. The answer to overcrowding at the airport in NE Portland is so obvious it would bite Bill Blosser on the ass if he got anywhere near it.

The Port ought to design and construct a major expansion of the Hillsboro Airport. It should be clear to everyone that the great majority of the increase in air traffic is caused by Washington County businesses such as Intel and other high-tech folks.

A Hillsboro expansion is much greener and more sustainable than a NE Portland one. If Blosser is smart, the first thing he'll do is commission a study of who uses the NE Portland airport, and where they live and work. He will find that a significant percentage of passengers are driving all the way from darkest Washington County to NE Portland to catch an airplane. Burning fossil fuels all the way.

To continue the sustainability theme, a MAX spur line could be build to the Hillsboro airport so that no one could use it to get there, but we'd all feel good about it.

From the perspective of future growth, the Portland Airport sits in a really bad location. It's hemmed in by the river and the neigborhoods. Growth should be accomodated by a 2nd airport in Washington County. That's where a lot of the population and business growth is occurring.

"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"

This is what the city did for OHSU as part of the SoWa deal - made the institution an allowed use instead of conditional. It's a huge red flag.

"and provide the community with greater opportunity to influence airport planning and development....".

Note, not actual influence, just the opportunity to influence. Let's learn from what happened (and continues to happen) in SoWa, and work even harder to bring reason, fairness, and common sense into this airport process.

Thank you for highlighting this, Jack. I agree, public awareness and action is the only hope. And you're right, it has to be a region-wide effort, as we saw in the OHSU plan that a few neighborhoods working as hard as humanly possible can't stop such major power players.

Of course the linchpin to "Airport Futures" is a new $68 million PoP headquarters building.

It's vital they be consolidated and cozy in new digs in order to provide the "community" with a greater voice in airport planning.

The local planning activists have already been notified to act as the "community".

How familliar.

I thought I read somewhere that PDX is already the same acreage as LAX. Given the slight difference in population between us and LA, I wouldn’t have thought expansion was a pressing issue for the next 100 years or so.

Air travel is horrendously polluting (so says the hypocrite who flew to Oakland to drink and play golf this weekend), so much so that the drive to the airport is a tiny factor. There may be a case to be made for a Hillsboro expansion based on congestion and sucking-up to Intel/Nike.

I remember people here concluding that the new port building was the usual downtown powerbrokers getting their way. What I don’t understand is why they would want to be stuck on top of a parking lot at the airport. Is it to be near the only remaining Good Dog Bad Dog and Coffee People restaurants?

As a Hillsboro resident, I certainly would not like to see the increase in operations that commercial service at the local airport would bring. However, I do see it as inevitable. With the growth in jobs and employment in Washington County and the distance to PDX from this region (a 40 minute drive for me if there is no congestion, 90 minutes by MAX) expansion here makes sense.

A major concern is one that last summer's air show highlighted. The city has allowed so much development, much of it residential, to encroach on the boundaries of the airport that such an expansion is not any more politically viable in the 'boro than at PDX.

Perhaps a new airport in Farmington or Scholls. Then it can move the pollution to a more central location and be inconvenient for everyone. Sound like a real winner to me.

airports and air travel are inherently NOT "sustainable".

yet, like other Portland development projects, we fuss over arrangement of deck chairs.

in other words--we need less airport than we already have. way less.

Scappoose extended their runway to 5,000 feet a few years ago to accomodate business jets (not airliners). They thought they would get some of the Hillsboro action. Along with the longer runway they started offering Jet fuel, which they hadn't had previously. So far, though, very little action.

Buzz words like "green,""sustainable,""smart," and "couplet" are used to sell condos.. they aren't really practices or policies.

The only thing that could stop this expansion is building a new "mini city" of "green" condos close to the airport.

They're probably looking to do both. When the Goldschmidt boys break out the backhoes, they usually make sure they get a piece of the action for themselves somehow.

A good high-speed train between Portland and Seattle, and we could plow up PDX and plant strawberries.

we could plow up PDX and plant strawberries.

You got it, you got it.

Don't leave me stranded here, I can't get used to this lifestyle.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

They already direct a considerable number of flights due south on certain days. Just this morning I counted five window-rattlers at my office in a 1-hour period (in my office at 70th and Sandy).

This topic came up at the Kennedy School County Commissioner forum last year, and each of the candidates promised to bend over backwards to please NE residents, with the exception of Ginny Burdick, who completely blew me away with her "straight talk express," saying something to the effect of "if you choose to live near an airport, you should expect some noise." Imagine an entire room full of Concordia and other NE residents falling into deathly silence, mouths agape.

I have no idea whether this was a gaffe on her part, if she actually is that honest, or if she only lies to please West Hills silver spooners, but it definitely stuck in my mind.

airports and air travel are inherently NOT "sustainable".

So we shouldnt own cars, now we shouldnt fly, what the hell are we supposed to do? Just sit in a Pearl condo smoking medicinal pot, watching the rain?

How long do we wait before MAX goes to the coast? Will there be hiking stops? Camping? It must stop at Camp 18 though! Gotta eat right?


no amount of complaining about not being able to have our cake and eat it too is going to improve the situation.

it's how we got here in the first place--refusing to give up what--basically--we're able to have only at a staggering cost to the environment and human health.

in other words, every time you fly to Hawaii you're spending the principal, not the interest.

we're running out of principal.

or did you think there were no limits? if you do, then we're just debating where to draw the line, not the line itself.

"...what the hell are we supposed to do? Just sit in a Pearl condo smoking medicinal pot, watching the rain?"

Wow man that sounds really cool. I'll bring over my Pink Floyd albums.

You old geezer. In the Pearl they just play Coldplay and look into the mirror while weeping.

I think the best bet for the airport is to move it south -- between Portland and Salem -- much like Seattle did when they built Sea-Tac.

We could then call the new airport Port-Sale and turn the current airport into a sustainable green mini-city with light rail, street cars, and lots of condos.

You know that KGW tranmission tower in the West Hills could double as a Zeppelin docking station.
With a connecting tram extension to SoWa and the Pearl and we would have a sustainable, eco friendly transit alternative.
Hydrogen gas is cheap and plentiful and could potentially (under certain atmospheric conditions) resolve the anticipated growth issues facing Portland.


Do not, even in jest, bring up such a concept. The reason I hate M37 with every fibre of my being is it brings closer the day when people refer to the "Portland/Salem area." It's coming but I hope for senility before it happens.

Jack, I didn't know you were up on Coldplay. I bought the new Arctic Monkeys cd an hour ago and am feeling very young (although the acne-ridden gal on the register did stare at me like I was her grandpa).

It's be interesting to see how Portland can build a bigger airport with a smaller carbon footprint, otherwise it'll be more greenwashing for green acres USA.

don't worry these people will solve the global warming problem through a sustainable flatulence program.


Everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Hmmm, thanks for the heads up Jack, I'll make sure I get a round or two in at Colwood before it goes away. Pity, it really is a nice course.

we're running out of principal.

Bah. They said that 30 years ago.

"They said that 30 years ago"

And it was true then as well.

Hey Sherwood, just an FYI:

Portland-Salem may already be considered a Consolidated Metropolitain Statistical Area (CMSA) by the U.S. Census Bureau.

I understand your concern and oppose M37 myself, however, to think of Portland and Salem as two seperate entities may be couter productive to your argument. In my view they are very much linked, so much so that we need to retain forest and farmland inbetween and around them to ensure (and don't hang my Jack for using these terms) economic and environmental sustainability. In fact, I would argue it would be to our benefit to consider the 'region' as stretching from Eugene to Longview between the Cascades and Coast ranges.

As long as you call it a "region" not a town

As long as you call it a "region" not a town

and as long as you're not acne-ridden


One of the answers is to not expand the airport, and then to ration the takeoff and landing slots among the airlines that serve PDX. The tradeoff is that we'll pay more to buy tickets in and out of Portland -- limited supply, increasing demand. Seattle airport already has capacity controls

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