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Baker embraces airport potential

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

BAKER CITY The positive effects of Oregon Senate Bill 680 were up for debate in Scappoose and Aurora, but in Baker City, arms are open to plans for an airport, which could mean economic growth for the rural town.

The bill allows for growth at these three rural airports, to spur the economy and set an example for other rural airports in the state. Though it comes with no money attached, the bill helps all government agencies with a hand in airport development better work together. “No one was focusing on aviation to help rural communities participate in the overall economy,” says Ted Millar, owner of South End Airpark in Aurora. “[The bill] applies existing laws to rural airports.”

The bill was introduced by Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, who was under fire last summer when it became clear that her husband’s business – next to the Scappoose airport – would benefit. Millar, whose airpark also profits from the bill, was criticized for urging development in Aurora. Opponents say Aurora is 10 miles from many of Oregon’s fastest-growing cities and 30 minutes from Portland – hardly a rural town. So the Baker City Airport, with its 400 acres of undeveloped land, is the new poster child for the bill.

The timing is perfect for Baker City, where the airport is revising its FAA-mandated master plan, which must be done every 10 years. As the city plans for upkeep and expansion at the airport under the master plan, it is also forming an economic plan to address four goals: a light industry center, a visitor portal, resident transportation and future scheduled airline service.

Jake Jacobs, an airport commissioner, says they hope to attract small aircraft manufacturers and aviation-related businesses, like those in central Oregon, and other statewide companies that want to keep the company jet next door for easy travel. “An industrial park turns the airport into a taxpayer for the city,” Jacobs says, noting the airport currently costs the city money to operate.

Many businesses – and people – looking to locate in Baker City ultimately go elsewhere because there is no scheduled flight service. While Jacobs says it’s almost impossible that Delta or United will ever serve the airport, there are alternatives with very light jets.

Everything is just in the planning stages, and Jacobs says it will be at least a couple of years before there is noticeable progress. Steve Brocato, city manager of Baker City, says there are concerns that the city could grow too fast. The airport neighbors ranches and farmland, so plans are being developed to ensure the community is on board, Brocato says.


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