Betsy's Flight Connections

Who else would benefit by a senator's already-controversial airport bill.

The airport bill that has put state Sen. Betsy Johnson under the microscope has benefits for major players far beyond the powerful Scappoose Democrat's district (see "Heavens to Betsy," WW, May 30, 2007).

When Johnson introduced Senate Bill 807 this session, she created the opportunity for the Scappoose Airport and her husband's adjoining business to benefit. But her bill also created a potential trifecta for property owners near Aurora State Airport, just 20 miles south of Portland, off I-5.

Landowners in the area are already trying to get their properties rezoned "industrial" and placed inside Portland's urban growth boundary. Both designations would increase property values sharply and pave the way for a distribution center that could take advantage of proximity to I-5, I-205 and the Aurora airport.

Johnson's bill to create new taxing districts around rural airports would be icing on the cake. If passed, SB 807 would draw a circle with a 10-mile radius around rural airports such as Aurora's and dedicate half the new tax revenues generated in that circle to infrastructure.

"They want to develop everything on both sides of I-5 south of the Willamette," says Wilsonville mayor Charlotte Lehan, who opposes the bill.

The "they" Leehan refers to include former Budweiser distributor Chris Maletis, who owns Langdon Farms Golf Course, and Ted Millar, a developer with extensive holdings adjacent to the Aurora airport. Both men are pursuing legislation that would accelerate the prospects of industrial development.

This legislative session, Maletis lobbyist Hasina Squires has proposed at least two amendments that would facilitate Langdon Farms being rezoned as "industrial land." So far, Squires says, those efforts have failed. But she says Maletis, who's acquired hundreds of acres between Langdon Farms and the Aurora airport, will continue to push.

Meanwhile, Millar, who made his fortune in construction before turning his focus to aviation, is the prime mover behind the Oregon Aviation Association, on whose behalf Johnson introduced SB 807.

The Aurora airport's runway has been strengthened to accommodate jets, and a proposed control tower could follow. Such improvements have led to speculation that Aurora's future includes far more jets and possibly an air cargo business that would dovetail with the distribution hub that Maletis envisions at Langdon Farms.

"There's a lot of potential for growth," says Jim Hansen of Positive Aurora Airport Management, a group of which Millar is a member.

Lehan says SB 807's proposed creation of a new taxing district to facilitate such development would primarily benefit private interests at public expense. The airport taxing districts would also deviate from typical taxing districts in that private citizens, rather than elected officials, would decide how the tax dollars would be spent.

"This bill is supposed to benefit rural airports," Lehan says. "Aurora isn't a rural airport. Many of the fastest-growing cities in Oregon are within 10 miles of Aurora, which is only half-an-hour from Portland."

Johnson says she's talked to Millar, whom she's "known forever," regularly about promoting the development of the Aurora airport. She hasn't been involved in discussions about Langdon Farms. And Johnson dismisses any notion that she's using SB 807 to curry favor with powerful property interests ahead of a possible run for statewide office such as governor or secretary of state.

"That's just fantasy," she says.

WWeek 2015

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