Since the failure of a bond measure in May to pay for infrastructure improvements at the Astoria Regional Airport, a schism has formed between the Port of Astoria and Life Flight Network on how to move forward.
Life Flight Regional Director Jacob Dalstra and Base Manager Dan Travers appealed to the Port Commission on Tuesday for a final direction on where to place the service’s new hangar and crew quarters, funded by a $665,000 ConnectOregon state infrastructure grant and $285,000 of internal investment.
The Port wants Life Flight to build the new hangar at the south end of the airport, past several rows of hangars and away from other airport traffic, but doesn’t have the money to install an estimated $500,000 worth of infrastructure.
Since the bond’s failure, Life Flight has moved to build the hangar at its current location near the 12th Place entrance to the airport, which would cost drastically less, but which Port staff and the Airport Advisory Committee have deemed unsuitable because of operational conflicts with nearby aviators.
“We have not been able to get a straight answer and have got the runaround and been misled several times, in respect to finalizing a site for our hangar,” Travers told the Port Commission Tuesday. “We’ve done everything possible to be good partners, to be patient, to be supportive, but we don’t feel like we’re getting the equal treatment in return.”
Life Flight applied for the state grant with the understanding that the Port was going to cover the cost of installing infrastructure and utilities to the preferred site, Travers said. Since the bond failed, he said, Life Flight has received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to start a review of its current site for the new hangar.
Life Flight needs to finalize a location for the hangar by the end of September or seek a second extension on its ConnectOregon grant, in which it originally committed to choosing a location by the end of June. Travers asked the Port to either secure the funding for infrastructure as promised or OK the current location.
Port Executive Director Jim Knight remained committed to the preferred site to the south and said he took exception to some of Travers’ characterizations of past conversations.
“At no time did I make a promise that I would commit the Port’s resources,” Knight said. “I don’t have the authority to commit the Port’s resources to fund the infrastructure costs. I did say I would do everything in my power to find those funds.”
The Port did not have the money to develop the infrastructure to the preferred site, and asked voters to fund the expansion. It was Life Flight that had asked the Port to find a different location at the airport for its hangar, Knight said.
Dalstra denied ever having said Life Flight wanted to move from its current location.
“If we were allowed to build at our current location, it wouldn’t cost the Port anything, zero dollars,” Dalstra said. “It wouldn’t cost the taxpayers any dollars. We would take on all the costs of building right where we’re at.”
Life Flight would pay for any costs to mitigate any issues at the current site, but doesn’t want to wait for the Port to find infrastructure funding while its aircraft are subjected to corrosion from being left outside, Dalstra said.
“We sent an aircraft out on a truck,” he said. “We couldn’t even fly it because of corrosion, because the aircraft was sitting outside. We’re not going to go through that again. We are on a time crunch to get this built.”
Discussions between Life Flight and the Port have reached an impasse, necessitating a quick decision by the Port Commission separate from the airport committee, Travers said.
‘One more shot’
Port Commission President Frank Spence called for a vote on the preferred location, but Commissioner Bill Hunsinger said he wanted more information. Commissioner James Campbell said the current location is not safe. New commissioners Dirk Rohne and Robert Stevens called for more negotiations between the Port and Life Flight to find a solution.
“I’d like to see everyone try one more shot at it, before we vote on it, and if we can’t get there … I would support building where they are if we can’t figure out how to pay for where we want them,” Rohne said.
The Port Commission agreed to bring the issue up again at its next meeting later this month.