In an unusual alliance, a Marion County “Tea Party” group and progressive activists have both questioned a proposed $11 million expansion of Salem’s Municipal Airport. They’ve combined forces to write a letter to the Salem City Council asking questions about the project and requesting a reply.

At issue is a possible runway extension that is part of a Master Plan proposed by the Salem Municipal Airport and currently being considered by Salem’s City Council, the Mayor, and the City Manager. Funding is to come from taxpayers, by way of the FAA and Oregon Lottery funds. The airport and its representatives have described the expansion as something that would benefit the community with jobs and increased revenue.

However, Paul Jaudes, Marion County chapter head of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which describes itself as “part of the tea party movement,” disagrees. Jaudes believes the claim of economic benefit is unproven. “Our group objects to any spending of money just to spend it, with no benefit or guarantee of return—especially when all the rest of us are cutting back or in debt,” he states. Because of their concerns, AFP wrote a letter to the city council, challenging a number of pro-expansion assumptions. A copy of AFP’s letter is printed with this article.

“I’ll tell you the kind of thing we need to hear more about,” Jaudes says. “The proponents claim runway expansion is needed to bring in 737 aircraft to our community. But two 737s have landed here in the last thirty days, and multiple photos document it.” In fact, 737 aircraft did land at Salem Airport to discharge soldiers of the Oregon Army National Guard 1249 Engineering Battalion, on December 8 and December 12, 2011.

As the letter suggests, AFP members have yet to see a market analysis, or any documentation that an air freight company (another source of revenue mentioned by supporters) is actively considering coming to Salem Airport.

The letter asks for clarification of the steps that may or may not have been taken to comply with city and FAA regulations, including insurance requirements, noise compliance and potential fuel spills. AFP does not consider the city council to be its adversary, Jaudes says, andw

Rob Gould marks the opposite end of the political spectrum from AFP. A community activist and member of a “small group of liberal livability folks,” Gould joined AFP to assist in questioning runway expansion.

“The Salem Chamber of Commerce has been the driving force behind spending all the taxpayer money wasted at the Salem Airport so far.” Gould claims that the proposed expansion is “not really about air service at all. Three times in the last ten years, the city has spent large amounts of lottery dollars on the airport that has produced nothing for the people of Salem.

It’s a waste of $11 million when the state says it doesn’t have enough funding for the seven-day-a-week bus service we actually need. It currently appears that this plan will only subsidize a few businesses who are already located at the airport.” Gould’s group is working with Aviation Watch, which recently fought successfully against the building of a third runway in Hillsboro.

Another progressive involved is Richard Reid, chair of CityWatch, a long time advocacy group in Salem. Reid says, “It’s the same old story. Special interests want to commit public funds to a project lacking community-wide benefit. No one knows if dropping $11 million on a municipal airport will benefit the community.”

One member of the team questioning the runway summed it up this way: “We began with simple, honest questioning—we were curious to know why the expansion was necessary. To this day we haven’t received a straight answer. And it’s our money.”

Here is a copy of AFP’s letter.

12/20/2011 Dear Mayor, City Council and City Manager;

Marion & Polk County

Members of our organization have expressed concerns over the proposed airport expansion. To address these, we ask that the City please respond to the following questions and requests for information:

• With three failed airline ventures, what has recently changed that would justify the City of Salem’s plans to use FAA funds and Connect Oregon II Lottery funds for runway expansion and other upgrades to the airport. Please provide a market analysis and documentation, grant applications, and supporting documents justifying your claims for your proposed expansion. Also please provide supporting data, letters of intent from specific air freight companies who are actively considering coming to the Salem Airport.

• We have received an undated photo of a Boeing 737 offloading troops at McNary Field. Please explain your argument that an expansion is needed to support planes of this type and size if the runway is already capable of handling this. If citing stricter FAA regulations to support your argument, please provide us with the specific code that has changed and the date it changed.

• Please provide copies of company Operations Specifications that are proposing to bring part 121 or 135 operations to the Salem Airport.

• Does Salem McNary Airport have the capacity to re-fuel or de-fuel if needed, larger planes such as a Boeing 737? Since Salem Airport adjoins the Pringle Creek Watershed. Please provide the Salem Airport Spill Prevention and Response Plan for small and large spills at both the passenger terminal and refueling locations for large airline transport aircraft. Please provide maps of all drain basins which are at risk to spills from anticipated freight, or passenger service at the Salem Airport.

• Does Salem McNary Airport have access to ground de-icing equipment for use on larger airline transport aircraft?

• Please provide Salem McNary Airport Aircraft Accident and Response Plan for large airline transport aircraft.

• Salem McNary Airport is now surrounded by a higher population density. Based on regulations as outlined in FAA 5190.6b FAA Airport Compliance Manual how is Salem McNary Field in compliance with noise complaints? What are plans for Salem Airport to come into compliance and to remain in compliance for operations contemplated as outlined in the Airport Compliance Manual.

• Is there an open complaint filed with the FAA against the city possibly precluding it from receiving any federal

airport grant improvement funding? If so, can you provide a summary of the complaint and what has staff done

to resolve this issue?

• What steps has city staff and the Airport Commission taken to insure tenants at Salem McNary Airport are in

compliance with City of Salem Chapter Nine codes, regulations and agreements governing the use of public property and Salem Airport? Please provide us with a record of all violations that have occurred or alleged violations within the last three years and the action taken?

• There is a concern that some airport tenants are not in compliance with insurance requirements. Has there been a review to make sure that tenants have insurance certificates with proper endorsements and listing the City of Salem as a certificate holder? What department conducted the reviews and what were their findings? Were these findings reported to the FAA ADO, Renton?

Thank you for your consideration in this matter, we look forward to your reply.

Yours in Freedom,

Americans for Prosperity Marion/Polk County Leadership