Fighter planes have been soaring 170 miles southeast from Portland when rough seas disrupt their ability to train over the ocean.

The Oregon Air National Guard would like its 142nd Fighter Wing to have a closer space to the east and more maneuverability over Oregon’s North Coast.

At Wednesday’s Board of Clatsop County Commissioner’s meeting, Oregon Air National Guard representatives presented an airspace initiative the United States Air Force is developing. In June, at a series of scoping meetings around the state, the changes were first presented to the public.

Rough seas make ocean airspace off-limits to Oregon Air National Guardsmen during the winter months because of the increased danger for a pilot and rescuers in the event a pilot has to eject or crash into the water.

Col. Rick Wedan, wing commander for the 142nd in Portland, said there are diverse and complex training exercises that his F-15 pilots have to conduct.

“At the end of the year, in order for these pilots to stay qualified in the aircraft, they have to fulfill all of those,” Wedan said. “We can’t just take off and fly over the airfield to accomplish these.”

Some of the training includes practicing radar skills and aircraft interacting with each other in a dogfight scenario.

Airspace is currently used off Oregon’s coast to perform the training, but the initiative calls for lowering the minimum flying altitude to 11,000 feet from 18,000 feet. A new practice area is proposed northeast of Bend where pilots could fly to when space over the ocean is unavailable. The nearer proposed area could save an estimated $7 million a year, according to the Oregon Air National Guard.

Residents who attended the meeting were concerned about lowered flying over residential areas. In current training airspace in Central Oregon, pilots can fly as low as 500 feet where there is a limited population. Wedan said that 11,000 feet is the lowest pilots could fly in the off-coast training airspace near Astoria.

The initiative is being reviewed and an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) draft is being developed to address environmental and ecological impacts associated with the changes.

Business request

The board also heard from business owner Steve Cullen who is appealing a ruling made by a county hearings officer. The code enforcer found a proposed expanded structure to be out of compliance with zoning in the area.

Cullen’s business, Versa Corporation, is located south of Astoria in an area zoned for farming. The company builds machinery and equipment for farming and is seeking to build an overhead cover to protect operations from the rain.

Chairman Peter Huhtala invited Cullen to speak about the proposal in front of the board.

“I think our request here is pretty simple,” Cullen said. “We’re not really asking for anything special or any big change.” He added that the company has been there for 30 years.

A hearing was set by the commissioners for July 24 to go over the hearings officer review.

In other business:

• The board agreed to hold a public hearing on a nuisance abatement ordinance, which would allow for a civil citation process regarding enforcement of land use ordinances and building codes.

• Commissioners also held a work session to go over regulations for short-term rentals in Arch Cape, which allow renters to stay for 30 days with limits on maximum occupancy. A review of the regulations was passed onto the Southwest Coastal Citizens Advisory Committee.

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