Clackamas County Sheriff's Office hopes to take over Yamhill's helicopter program


July 22--The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office expects to take over Yamhill County's helicopter program in a deal that could be a bargain for agencies across the Portland metropolitan area.

If all goes according to plan, Clackamas County will pay $1 for two OH-58 Kiowa helicopters -- one working and one under repair.

One helicopter is proposed for search-and-rescue operations; the other, for patrol, traffic enforcement and surveillance.

"We're going to start moving in a new direction -- straight up," said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts.

The U.S. Army developed OH-58 Kiowas by modifying civilian-model Bell 206A JetRangers, then used them for scouting missions during the Vietnam War.

Yamhill County valued the two helicopters at $650,000 and estimated the entire package, including spare parts and accessories, at $1.5 million. The county received them through military-surplus programs starting in 1995.

However, Yamhill County Sheriff Jack Crabtree found that the helicopters were expensive to fly and maintain -- too expensive for Yamhill County to handle for limited local use.

Clackamas County plans to get around that issue by recruiting partners to help bear the costs.

"We're still trying to figure out who exactly will be working with us," said Lt. Wendy Babst, a Clackamas County sheriff's spokeswoman. "But I can say we're talking with just about everybody."

As part of the agreement, Clackamas also would pay about $56,000 for two additional airframes and $62,000 for a hangar.

Yamhill County would receive 40 hours of helicopter flying time every year. Yamhill also would gain access to service with Clackamas County's fixed-wing airplane, a Cessna 182 obtained years ago through a drug-related forfeiture.

Still to be worked out: where the helicopters would be based and who would fly them.

Aurora Airport has been suggested, but the final location may be based on who else joins the project, Clackamas officials said.

The Clackamas Cessna is flown by three pilots. All are law enforcement deputies who have regular assignments within the sheriff's office but are on call 24 hours a day for air missions.

A similar arrangement is expected for the helicopter program.

-- Rick Bella