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Flower Trumps Airplane

Two legally required environmental studies, including one that discovered a small endangered plant, have caused a two-year delay in plans for a runway extension planned for Salem Municipal Airport. This delay means the city must return funds awarded by the state through the ConnectOregon program, and apply again later.

The City’s Airport Master Plan, the most noticed portion of which included a runway extension to accommodate larger planes, required environmental assessments (EAs) in early 2012.

According to a December 3, 2012, City memo, the biological study of the EA identified “a potentially significant biological impact in the proposed construction area” when an abundance of endangered Checker Mallow (plants) was discovered. The checker mallow is a nectar food source of another organism, the also-endangered Blue Fender butterfly.

As a result of this finding, in-depth plant counts and a proposed mitigation plan, coordinated with both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon Department of Agriculture is required.

The second discovery was that an immediate upgrade to the airport’s electrical system was needed. According to the same report, “the electrical system weaknesses require immediate attention and correction which necessitates a complete design of the airfield lighting system.”

Anticipating a Runway Extension, the City was awarded $2.6 million of ConnectOregon II funds in 2008. However, because of the aforementioned discoveries, Salem was not able to meet the specified timeline required to retain grant funding. It must now return funds awarded by ConnectOregon with interest.

There is expected to be a delay of approximately six to eight months to address the problems, after which City staff intends to apply for a new ConnectOregon grant in November 2013.

That and FAA funds sourced in 2014 – 2015 would be enough to fund the estimated $13.5 million Runway Extension Project.

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