Airlines Want Portland to Put Off New HQ; Board Won't

Airlines looking at a $70 million environmental bill at Portland International Airport want to defray their costs by taking a bite out of plans for a new Port headquarters there.

But the Port of Portland, which operates the airport, isn't buying the idea.

Last fall, the Port signed an agreement with the state to build a new system to collect and treat runoff from de-icing fluid sprayed on planes. Airlines spray the fluid --similar to antifreeze --in winter.

The Port collects de-icer runoff and discharges it into the Columbia Slough, where bacterial breakdown of runoff limits oxygen available to juvenile salmon. The Port violated its discharge permit from state environmental regulators dozens of times. The violations led to an $82,500 fine and an agreement to build a new system, which likely will discharge treated water directly into the Columbia River.

Under a five-year agreement signed in 2005 between more than 20 passenger and cargo airlines and the Port, the airlines bear the burden of paying for such an environmental order. The final cost is still unclear, but Mary Maxwell, the Port's aviation director, said $70 million is the current estimate.

Last month, on the day Port commissioners decided to proceed with plans to build a new agency headquarters atop a planned parking garage at PDX, airline representatives delivered a letter questioning the wisdom of spending $69 million on office space.

Representatives of United Airlines and Southwest Airlines wrote that the money would be better spent on treating de-icing fluid runoff or on a new baggage-screening system expected to cost $118 million.

"We respectfully request that the Port defer approval of the Port office program until funding for these two critical projects has been identified," wrote Korbey Hunt, regional corporate real estate manager for United.

The next week, on April 17, the chairman of a committee that represents 20-plus airlines serving PDX wrote the Port along the same lines.

Mookie Patel, an Alaska Airlines manager who heads the Airport Affairs Committee, wrote to request that the Port use parking revenues to help defray costs of the runoff treatment system.

"We . . . hope that you will be responsive to the cost pressures that we will face in the near future," Patel wrote to Port Executive Director Bill Wyatt.

Wyatt, while holding open the possibility of reaching some agreement with the airlines over the costs of the runoff system, told them in writing and in an April meeting that the headquarters plans are not going to be held up in the meantime.

Under the Port's agreement with airlines, the airlines have veto rights on most projects inside the terminal and on runways.

But roadway, parking and other projects outside the terminal are within the Port's discretion. They are paid for by revenue from parking, airport-area hotels and a portion of rental car receipts.

Wyatt said the Port is within its rights to spend that revenue on the headquarters.

Greg Gillis, Southwest's property manager, acknowledged Friday that the Port doesn't need the airlines' approval to proceed.

"We accept their position because that's part of the agreement," he said. "Are we done? I'd prefer to be silent on that."

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