Ambitious Plan Calls for $10-Million Upgrade to Camas, Wash., Airport

Grove Field, a general aviation airport in Camas, would undergo $10.5 million in upgrades outlined in a preliminary 20-year master plan that also includes a controversial proposal to relocate a nearby 57-lot mobile home park.

It is meant to serve as a safety zone as pilots take off or land on the nearby runway.

Even if FAA paid the expense of relocating the park, that wouldnt solve everything.

Ed and Darlene West live in a 1984-vintage home that is not as stable as it was when first erected.

"We didnt plan on moving," Darlene West said. "I cant afford to move, but even if we could, I am not sure (the house) would stand up to a move."

They are among the luckier residents. Many of their neighbors live in mobile homes that are considerably older, some, with noticeably brittle and corroded siding.

Then, there are retirees Gary and LaVonne Horton, who moved in six months ago from Goldendale and have spent some $6,500 on setting up their manufactured home, complete with added comforts. He recently finished building a covered front porch. The Hortons, too, have counted on staying at the park.

Cannon, whose committee has worked with W&H Pacific consultants of Portland on the draft plan, said that acquisition of the park is only second or third on the FAAs list behind lengthening the runway. As an advisory committee member who lives near the airport, he shares in the concerns over what could accompany change.

"We have never received any money from the FAA," Cannon said. "If we do, we are committed to FAA, and for the life of this project, we have to abide by FAA rules, which in some ways, takes the (airports operation) out of the (port) commissioners hands and puts it into the hands of the FAA."

But Cannon said there is no certainty that the community would go the FAA route in pursuing future upgrades.

He has concerns about any changes that could open the airport to wider use. With Evergreens imminent closing -- no closing date has been announced -- he said that many displaced pilots will want to be based at Grove Field, where there already is a waiting list.

"I am for keeping (the airport) like it is, and I think the majority of us would like to keep it for Camas-Washougal residents," he said.

While the airport last year generated $204,465, it incurred a loss of $121,612, at least on paper. The latter included the airports share of port expenses, which would not be erased even if Grove Field ceased to operate.

Advisory committee member Jim Ludwig, a longtime pilot who makes good use of the facilities, is a supporter of upgrades.

"You cant expect the airport to be the only area of the community that will not grow," he said.

Of the draft upgrades, he says, "I think it is a good beginning. I am not wholeheartedly behind the details of the plan, but I am wholeheartedly behind the plan."

He is among those who dismiss as highly unlikely fears of some that upgrades would lead to a notably larger airport that would enable corporate jets and commuter aircraft to land.

First, he and others cite the proximity to Portland International Airport, just across the Columbia River, and the fact that larger craft would interfere with PDXs airspace -- a situation that FAA would not allow. Secondly, they cite Grove Fields terrain, which drops off on the west end; tightly constricted setbacks; and the fact that it is not equipped for flights when weather conditions limit visibility.

Port Commissioner Jim Carroll said that ultimately the commissioners will need to strike a balance between supporters of the airport improvements and all voters in the port district.

"A lot of people say they would rather have an airport than a subdivision," he said.

On the other hand, if FAA funding is pursued, "how much control does the FAA have in telling us what to do?" he ponders.

In the end, though, the issue may be resolved by something more fundamental.

As Paul Cannon said, "This is not a plan to do anything. This is a plan to say what we might look like in 20 years if we get the federal money. When we get this study done, there may not be any federal money left to do it."



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