Victory at Oregon Supreme Court protects 55 acres of farmland

The Oregon Supreme Court declined a petition to review an earlier Court of Appeals decision, thereby leaving in place the appellate court decision that protects 55 acres of exclusive farm use land.  This huge land use victory was reached in the ongoing legal battle over the proposed expansion of the Aurora Airport’s runway. The Oregon Supreme Court sums it up in a single sentence: “The court has considered the petition for review and orders that it be denied.”

Repeated attempts to expand the Aurora Airport’s runway onto farmland not only violates Oregon’s land use planning laws, but also wastes the public’s time and money. We hope this is the last we’ll be hearing about the expansion. 

1000 Friends provided pro-bono legal representation to petitioner Friends of French Prairie throughout this long legal process.

Aurora Airport expansion
The current Aurora Airport runway.

The original Court of Appeals ruling stated that the Oregon Aviation Board’s plan to expand the Aurora Airport onto farmland must comply with state land use laws. Oregon’s land use laws protect farmland and rural lands from the expansion of urban uses. In this case, an airport accommodating large airplanes. 

“The decision by the Supreme Court not to consider for review the ruling by the Court of Appeals is a huge win for Oregon land use. The legal dispute over the Aurora Airport master plan, which is to say, expansion of the Aurora Airport, carries direct negative impacts on traffic, local infrastructure, the adjacent cities of Aurora and Wilsonville, and Oregon agriculture. Most people don’t know that some of the areas’ largest fresh vegetable farms are proximate to this airport and the contemplated expansion would be onto 55 acres of exclusive farm use land. The central part of the Court of Appeals ruling is that we have a land use system, and even state agencies have to comply with land use laws.” - Ben Williams | President, Friends of French Prairie — an affiliate group of 1000 Friends of Oregon 

French Prairie — where the Aurora Airport is situated — contains some of the highest quality farmland in the continental United States and the most available groundwater in Oregon. It is one of the areas surrounding the Portland Metro under the most developmental pressure, and has been designated “Foundation Agricultural Land” by the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture. 

We're able to achieve these legal victories thanks to the support of our members

Below is a recap of the original Court of Appeals Decision from June of this year

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals confirmed that the aviation board’s master plan to expand the Aurora Airport runway for larger, faster and heavier jets must be evaluated like any other urban use that seeks to expand onto farmland. Dealing an even further blow to the aviation board’s plans to pave over farmland, the Court of Appeals dismissed all of the ways the board tried to avoid complying with state and local land use laws. The Court of Appeals ruled that:

  • The aviation board’s own map clearly indicates that the proposed runway expansion extends onto farmland.
  • An airport is not a “rural” use allowed on farmland simply because a state statute refers to the Aurora Airport as a “rural airport.”
  • The runway expansion would allow larger, faster, and heavier jets to use the airport at their maximum weight. 
  • For all of those reasons, the court ruled that the aviation board cannot avoid review and must evaluate the runway expansion to determine whether or not it can comply with the statewide protections for farmland.