“Through The Fence” Conference

with ODA acting director Gregg Dalponte

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


With about 50 Independence Airpark members in attendance at the EAA hangar, visitors from Albany and other airports in the vicinity, with ODA representative Mitch Swecker and representative Vicki Berger also attending, the new ODA acting director Gregg Dalponte took the microphone at 7:00 PM and addressed the crowd.  He began by stating that he had looked at the documentation available on the subject of “through the fence” access for residential airparks in the state of Oregon, and he was fully in favor of maintaining that access.


He further stated that from day one at the office, when he filled the vacancy left by the departing ODA director Dan Clem, he was inundated with questions about the position as stated in the most recent draft of “Compliance Guidance Letter 2009-01.”  As currently written, it states that residential airparks are an “incompatible use” of Federal airports.  The closing date for the advisory period regarding this draft of the “Compliance Guidance Letter” is December 5th.  Gregg strongly urged those in attendance who wanted to state their opposition should take that as high as they could go, to Congress or the Senate and all points between.  Joe Smith chimed in to say that Independence resident Dave Martin had written a very good letter responding to the FAA position, and encouraged others attending to write a similar one in their own words.


Over the last four weeks, including an opportunity to meet with FAA officials in Seattle, he has asked questions and sought out information on the current status of through-the-fence access.  He read aloud a response he had received to some questions he had sent to Carol Suomi at the Seattle office of the FAA.  Four points were covered in her response to him: the first was the FAA’s position regarding the Oregon Aviation Board resolution to not allow new residential airpark developments, and her response was that the FAA was satisfied with that.  The second had to do with airpark homes currently for sale and whether their airport access would be usable by the new owner, and the response was that it would: the FAA is not requiring that the existing through-the-fence access be closed down, but continued as-is.  The third regarded existing lots which are not yet built, platted for airport access but construction not yet started, and the response was that this access was “grandfathered” so the home built there can build a hangar or pad for through-the-fence operation.  The last had to do with whether or not the existing airparks had access “in perpetuity.”  The response was that the FAA had the right to look over any agreement coming up for renewal, and to be able to refuse it.  The example of what constituted refusal was if there was “drag racing” on the runway by the homeowners.  That got a laugh from the audience.


Joe Smith, current member of the Oregon Aviation Board, arrived at this point and was introduced by Gregg.


A question arose from the audience regarding the upcoming agreement renewal in ten years and whether any trouble from the FAA was anticipated.  Gregg said it wasn’t clear from the documents he consulted, and he did look because he anticipated the question.  He also made it clear that Carol Suomi was not the head of the FAA branch but rather the assistant.  Donna Taylor, who is the head, takes a sterner view against through-the-fence access.  Gregg has asked Ms. Taylor directly about FAA policy regarding TTF access, and Donna stated that the Independence Airpark was a situation unto itself and agreements had been entered into that would have to be honored.


Gregg read the responses that other states have made to the new Guidance Letter, and most of them have voted in favor of it: California and Idaho were in favor, and Washington State has not voted.  Gregg said that he would mark Oregon’s position as being “opposed.”  A question was asked about whether there was a way to go to these various states to find out their reasons for supporting the new FAA policy, and Gregg said he would contact them and find out what reasons they had.


Another question from the audience had to do with “prescriptive easements,” that being a usage of property being granted because of long-term previous use, and whether it could be used in this case.  Joe Smith answered saying it would not apply here because the FAA’s threat concerns the stoppage of funding for non-compliant airports, not to stop usage.  He followed that by repeating a remark that had been made by the anti-residential people at the FAA, stating that private airparks were wonderful, but they didn’t want to give them any Federal money.


Another question arose about what the exact arguments were against residential airparks and why were they being raised now after decades of successful operation.  Joe Smith answered that there were three main objections, each of which were “lame” in Joe’s estimation: the first was noise complaints, which only holds water if the residential people are not aviation-oriented and that is highly unlikely in a residential airpark situation.  The second was a philosophical aversion against Federal money contributing to the increase of the value of property, that the owner of an airpark home has an unfair advantage over the owner of a regular home, and this in Joe’s opinion revealed a hypocritical (his word) double standard: the value of a business corporation increases if it has through-the-fence access, and that was not considered a bad thing, so it should not be for a house either.  The final objection was the safety issue, and Joe countered that streets are even more dangerous and nobody has said that houses should not be anywhere near streets.


Another member of the audience asked if there was a way for the State airports to do without the Federal money so that their policy letters would not affect us.  Mitch Swecker responded by saying that a large portion of the State budget for airports comes from the Federal government through the FAA, 95% of it in some cases, and there really was no way to operate without that money.  A follow-up question asked if there was a set percentage of money that each airport gets, and Mitch answered that the percentage would vary per year depending on where the work needed to be done.  Various airports received major upgrades occasionally by being allotted a greater percentage for one year out of ten. When the question of which airports were profitable was asked, Mitch answered that there were four, and two of them (Independence and Aurora) had through-the-fence agreements. 


Joe Smith chimed in at this point saying that if the FAA were to reverse their long-standing tolerance of through-the-fence operation for residential airparks, the residents who lose property value because of that decision have a constitutional right for redress and compensation for loss of property value. 


Vicki Berger said that she would be willing to go to the floor of the legislature with this concern but said it would take more than just her to get the point across.  She then asked whether there was a local organization that would be able to spearhead the amorphous group in opposition to the Compliance Guidance Letter, and Andy Andersen said that ISAS (the Independence State Airpark Support group) was ideally suited to do this as it incorporated and represented all of the other groups on the airport.  Vicki said that any correspondence that she needs to funnel to the membership would be sent to ISAS to be distributed from there to members.  She urged attendees to write, each of us, and to include our name and address to prove that we are constituents of the representative receiving the letter or email.  If the sender is not identified then the communication will usually be ignored.  She finished by saying that Representative Kurt Schrader is facing his first re-election campaign and is vulnerable to constituent pressure so he should be very responsive to any issue including this one.


The conference was cheerfully adjourned at approximately 8:30 PM.


Respectfully submitted by Robert English, secretary ISAS